Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) (No. 2) Bill, 1950—Second and Subsequent Stages.

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

The purpose of this Bill is to provide that the Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Act, 1946, shall apply to the local financial year ending on 31st March, 1952. No new principle is involved; the Bill merely proposes to continue the agricultural grant on its present basis for a further year. The 1946 Act applied to the two financial years 1946-47 and 1947-48. Acts on the lines of the present Bill have continued it in operation until the 31st March, 1951.

From discussions on previous similar measures, Senators will be aware of the long history of the agricultural grant and of the main changes in the method of distribution of the grant since its introduction in 1898.

Rate relief under the 1946 Act 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 at the rate of one-fifth of the general rate on the whole of the land valuation above £20.

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. 0d. in respect of each man at work.

On this basis, it is clear that the amount of the grant varies automatically with variations in the county rate and the number of men at work on agricultural holdings.

The amount of the agricultural grant in the financial year 1949-50 was £3,971,722. I cannot yet give a final figure for the current year, but there should be no appreciable change as the average general rate adopted by county councils for this year is approximately the same as for 1949-50. The fact that the grant varies with changes in the general rate has helped to shield farmers in recent years from the full consequences of the general, but unavoidable increases, in rates which have taken place. Thus, in the year 1949-50, while the average gross rate in county health districts was 22/7¾d., the average net rate assessed on agricultural land was 11/3½d. The grant, in other words, afforded the farmer relief to the extent of 50 per cent. of the general rate in respect of any agricultural land in his possession.

As I have already stated, this is a continuing Bill, and therefore will make no change in the existing provisions relating to rate relief on agricultural land. The principle that the incidence of rating should fall less heavily on agricultural land than on other hereditaments has been accepted for a very long time, and I feel there is no need for me to go more deeply into the matter at this stage. The principles on which the measure is based are well known to Senators, and have always been accepted. I can accordingly commend this Bill to the House.

While we welcome the annual introduction of a Bill of this nature and while we might be prepared to congratulate ourselves on giving such assistance, to the extent of a sum of £3,000,000, to the farmers, there is an aspect of this matter to which I think we should direct our attention. It is that, in making available this large sum of money, we are making available only a percentage of the total which the farmer is being called on to pay. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that there will be very little change in the demand for rates this year as compared with last year, but those Senators who take an interest in the work of local authorities and who study the demands being made by the county councils in general will be convinced that there is a rather substantial increase in the rates in practically every county in Ireland this year as compared with last year. For quite a long period, particularly the last three years, there has been a very definite policy on the part of the Government of passing on to local authorities the responsibility of meeting charges which were originally met from the Central Fund. To mention just one or two of these instances, there was something like £2,000,000 reduction in the Road Fund grant. We had further reductions, or charges, being passed on in relation to home assistance and health in general. A further instance of the passing on of charges is the recent Order made by the Government that the school meal bread, especially in the Gaeltacht areas, must in future be supplied from 85 per cent. extraction wheat, that is the non-subsidised flour. That scheme, if it is implemented by the local authorities, is bound to place an increased charge on the ratepayers and many local authorities have to ask themselves whether they are going to put this additional charge on the rates —if they are going to continue the provision of this very important duty, the provision of school meals for the children in the western areas—or whether, on the other hand, they are going to curtail that very essential service. There is another aspect of the matter and that is the conditions imposed by the Order. Many of the contractors for these school meals are small bakeries which in the ordinary way do not undertake to make bread from the unsubsidised flour and they will now be compelled either to break their contracts or go into the production of white bread for a small percentage of their customers mostly those taking it for the school meals.

I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to take back to the Government and to voice from the areas concerned their very strong protest at this latest development. We have been told by Ministers and by eminent medical men that the present rationed flour is more nutritious than the 85 per cent. extraction flour now being imposed in the case of school meals. At the same time, we are going to have the position in these areas that the family bread will be of one type and that supplied in the school meals of an entirely different type. Where the local authorities are not prepared to foot the bill this very valuable scheme will be contracted in a general way.

I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to direct his attention to the three general schemes for the relief of rates. One to which I would particularly direct his attention is that making provision for a grant of £6 10s. 0d. in respect of each worker employed. As I understand it, the conditions laid down under this relief are that the workers must be employed for a full period of 12 months. We have cases, and I think those interested in agriculture generally know of such cases, where the workers are employed for periods of 11 and 11½ months. They do not therefore complete the 12 months necessary to entitle them to the claim for relief and that is a matter into which the Parliamentary Secretary should look.

While we welcome the Bill we avail again of the opportunity of drawing the attention of the Government to the ever increasing demands on the ratepayers and to point out that the time has come when some very serious steps will have to be taken to relieve the ratepayers of the heavy burdens being placed on them rather than continue the policy which we find in almost every Bill nowadays of passing charges over from the Central Fund to the local authorities and thereby enlarging the responsibilities of the local authorities.

There is a matter to which I have been drawing attention for over 20 years and I can never allow the opportunity to pass of referring to it. That is this question of the employment relief grant of £6 10s. in respect of male workers. In many farms the farmers employ female as well as male workers. Those female workers are doing the same work, receiving the same wages and perquisites as the male workers, and I cannot see any logical reason why this employment grant is not given in respect of those female workers just in the same measure as it is given in respect of the male workers. In my own county numerous farmers engage female workers to milk cows and they are paid at the same rates as the men and work under the same conditions. If the farmers employed male workers they would be given this relief and there is no earthly reason why it should not be given also in respect of the female workers.

I would like to support what Senator Bennett has said in respect of the application of the employment grant relief to farmers for women as well as for male workers. It is common practice in Limerick and other counties for farmers to employ both male and female labour for the same work.

There is the further point raised by Senator Hawkins where men and women are hired by the farmers for ten or 11 months and in the ordinary course the farmers would not be entitled to relief in respect of these workers. I think it would be better if the relief were based on a wages basis and, in that way, the farmers would qualify for the relief.

I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to take note of the position regarding rates, which is becoming very serious in the country, especially in those counties where land valuations are high. Those valuations were made over 100 years ago and they have not since been altered and cannot be altered under the present law. Much of this land is valued beyond its proper value and even land which has gone back into swamps and is overgrown is still rated as highly-rateable agricultural land. The rates are increasing year by year and, at the same time, the Government is imposing further obligations on the local authorities, with the result that the burden is becoming too heavy for the agricultural community to bear. It would be well if the Government would take note of this.

There is a great case for an increase in the agricultural grants because of the extra burden which the industry has now to bear in the maintenance of roads, etc. Because of the heavy concentration in the towns and cities the rural community generally is anything but prosperous and but for the fact that at present inflated prices are being paid for cattle, the rates could not be paid. The prices of many of the agricultural products were fixed on a figure for 1947. The price of eggs has gone down, as also has the price of agricultural produce in general—with the exception of cattle, which could fall overnight also, as it did a couple of years ago, if we had a changed international situation.

Farmers cannot pay higher rates and we know that the present expenditure of local bodies will remain or may increase. If the rural community is to be saved from financial catastrophe in the near future, the Government must shift some of the burden to the national Exchequer and put it on the community in general. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to convey to the Minister that it is a really urgent matter to see that agricultural prices are increased or some of the burdens are removed.

Mr. Burke

I would like to deal with one or two small matters contained in the Bill, and I hope the House does not mind my referring to matters which are in the Bill. The reason I say that is because many matters have been referred to to-day which are not in the Bill.

Some Senators mentioned the allowance for agricultural workers. As I and several other Senators mentioned last year, it is time for some amendment to the regulations. What happens is that a labourer leaves, perhaps without giving the employer notice, and it may be a fortnight or even a month before the farmer gets a suitable man to take up the position. That means that he is debarred from the whole of the grant. It is bad that the farmer should feel that any laws made by us should have a catch in them, that he should be caught out, that some regulation is put in by an official in Dublin to make it hard for him or to trip him up because he is not as well educated as the other. That is the impression and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the agricultural community. The regulation should be amended so that if a man is absent for a month the grant might be reduced by one-twelth. Even the farmers would be able to understand that elementary mathematical calculation. The regulation has been there for the last five or six years and something should be done about it.

Senator Hawkins said the agricultural grant was £3,000,000. It is £3,971,000 and I think we could call it in round figures, without undue exaggeration, £4,000,000. The increase in rates is inevitable, in view of the increase in prices. Everyone is getting a higher price for either goods or services, so there is bound to be some increase. It is well that this Act provides that if there is an increase in rates the farmers will get an increase in the agricultural grant to offset it.

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will make a minute to the effect that all the Seanad would like him to do something about this employment grant for agricultural labourers and particularly not to exclude them where there is a short break in the employment.

Those associated with local bodies for any length of time must be fully aware that there is a general outcry, when the rate is being struck, calling on the Government to foot the bill—in other words, passing the buck. Assuming, as Senator Quirke and Senator O'Dwyer suggested, that some of the extra taxation on local authorities were transferred to the Government, so that £5,000,000 or £10,000,000 would be raised by way of taxation instead of rates, John Citizen would still have to foot the bill in the long run and it would mean just transferring the burden from one hand to the other.

I cannot see why any Government— Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour or others—should agree that the liabilities of local authorities should be transferred to the central authority. We all know that all over the country the rates have been going up and the reasons are very obvious. We know that the prices of commodities have gone up. We know that mental hospitals and other such institutions have made greater demands on the local authorities. That is a matter for the citizens. If we try passing the buck, in the final analysis John Citizen will have to pay. If we accept the suggestion that the Government take over some of the liability, taxation will go up to meet it. No, matter what Government are in power, they will be pilloried and a comparison made with the previous Government. People will say that taxation was only about £30,000,000 and it is now £50,000,000, which is due to the local bodies being relieved of some of the rates. It is obvious that passing the buck will mean just the same thing to John Citizen.

In some quarters in the Seanad, there seems to be a misconception about this particular Bill. Some Senators have asked that the relief be increased. I think Senator Burke pointed out that this is a continuing Bill and provides that when the rates on agricultural land are increased, so too are the grants from the Central Fund. In effect, it means that of the rate on agricultural land levied on farmers, 50 per cent. is borne by the Central Exchequer. This Bill was introduced some years ago and was welcomed on all sides in both Houses and I think the principle of continuing it has been welcomed, and rightly so. It means in this particular instance that the Government of the day, the present Government, are prepared to foot the bill for this year and next year, whether the rates go up or down. In that respect, Senator Hawkins misunderstood me when I referred to the rates being the same as last year. I meant this present year. Senator Hawkins may have thought I meant the year 1951-52.

This discussion has centred more or less round the question whether the buck is being passed from the local authority to the central authority or from the central authority to the local authority. I think there is a lot of sound common-sense in what Senator Anthony said just now and I would subscribe entirely to his views. Now that there is an accent on increasing rates, it simply means: " Is John Citizen to pay the increase as a taxpayer or as a ratepayer?" In my opinion the raising of money for public works such as those carried out by local authorities is properly done by a system of collecting it by way of rates. I subscribe to that view, in any case. I rather imagine that if the buck were to be passed from the local to the central authority, it would certainly not be an equitable method of raising money for the type of work which local authorities do.

I now propose to quote figures to show that far from being passed from the central to the local authority over the last ten years or so, the buck has been passed in the other direction.

I will quote for the years from 1939-40 to 1949-50. In 1939-40, the total rates collected amounted to £6,510,000 and State grants amounted to £4,734,000; in 1943, total rates collected amounted to £7,434,000 and State grants to £4,685,000; in 1944-45, total rates collected amounted to £7,804,000, and State grants to £4,667,000; in 1945-46, total rates collected amounted to £8,312,000 and State grants to £4,805,000; in 1946-47, total rates collected amounted to £7,998,000 and State grants to £6,587,000; in 1947-48, the total rates collected amounted to £9,111,000 and State grants to £8,230,000, which meant that in that year the State grants were less than the total rates collected by nearly £1,000,000. In 1948-49, the total rates collected were £9,500,000 and State grants £10,749,000; in 1949-50, total rates collected were £10,900,000 and State grants £13,649,000. This means in effect that the State grants only equalled 60 per cent. of the total rates collected in 1939-40, and in 1949-50 equalled 120 per cent. Between 1939 and 1948 State grants were substantially less than the total rates collected while for the last two years they have exceeded the total rates collected. That, I think, entirely refutes the widespread allegation that an ever increasing burden is being placed on the local ratepayer by the central authority; it is not right to say that as Senator Hawkins did.

If we arrive at a position where the central authority subscribes the major portion of the moneys spent by local authorities, local authorities no longer will be local authorities but local agencies. If Dáil Éireann is to vote the major portion of the moneys spent by local authorities, Dáil Éireann will have to be responsible for those moneys, and Dáil Éireann as the central authority will have to have a bigger say than at present in the affairs of local authorities. Every local authority, however, wants to have as big a say as possible in the matters of road construction, house building, hospital construction, the amounts to be provided for health services, home assistance and all such things. If we arrive at the position where in effect hospitals, vocational education and road construction are nationalised it should and must mean that the Government would have by far the major say in the direction of these affairs in the different counties.

Some Senators raised objections— they have been raised many times before—to the system of payment of the employment allowances. There are three types of relief: the first one provides for a primary allowance of three-fifths of the general rate on land with a valuation not exceeding £20; the second provides an allowance of one-fifth of the general rate on land the valuation of which is above £20; in the third case the employment allowance is calculated at the rate of 10/- in the £ where the valuation is above £20, provided that it does not exceed £6 10s. in respect of each man at work. The first two are real reliefs and account for by far the biggest portion of the grant. The third one is not so much intended to be a relief as an encouragement to farmers to keep a man employed for the full 12 months and that principle has been subscribed to by all Ministers who have spoken on this measure since it was introduced. I would subscribe to it and I think that the majority of the House would also subscribe to it. It does not represent a big portion of the total grant and is over and above all an encouragement to farmers to keep their men employed. I can readily appreciate the difficulties in which a farmer would find himself if he had the good intention to keep a man on for 12 months and the man decided to leave; the farmer might be still anxious to keep the man in employment five minutes afterwards and could not get him. A case can be made where it is shown conclusively that the farmer's objective is to keep the man in employment for the whole 12 months.

Senator Bennett raised the question of female workers. This question has been raised from time to time, and I do not think that even the Senator himself expected to get very far on this question.

Some time.

Please God. There are certain objections; one of the intentions of the Bill when it was introduced in 1946-47 was to encourage the employment of labour.

And sack the women.

Not necessarily, but I do not think one could visualise female workers working in the same manner as we would expect male employees to work. They are employed in the house for a lot of the time on different chores that could not be called farm labour and generally there would be difficulty in trying to differentiate between farm and domestic work. For that reason I do not think it would be right to include female workers in the employment allowances scheme.

That covers most of the points which have been raised except one matter raised by Senator Hawkins and I am sure that he did not expect me to discuss school meals or subsidised and non-subsidised flour with him to-day. As a matter of fact it does not arise on this particular measure.

I should like some clarification in relation to the figures which the Parliamentary Secretary has given. The amount of the grants made available over a period to local authorities has no relationship with the relief of agricultural rates. These figures relate, I take it, to road grants, grants under the Local Authorities (Works) Act, etc., and these things have no relationship to the relief of agricultural rates.

That was merely in reply to those Senators who alleged that the central authority was imposing a greater burden every year. With regard to the other point, I need only repeat that according as the rate on agricultural land goes up so does the grant from the central authority.

Are we to take it, when you refer to this sum of £11,000,000, that housing subsidies and so forth are included in it?

All grants.

If that is so then I suggest that it is very deceptive. Many people might think that the entire sum of £11,000,000 was being devoted solely to the relief of rates on agricultural land. You might as well include the rents along with the rates. You might as well say: "The local rents amount to so much and the local rates amount to so much." You would then get a higher sum than that of £11,000,000. You or I would be just as entitled to say that as to say that the contribution from the State fund is £11,000,000. If you included the rents with the rates the sum would be much higher than £11,000,000. Therefore, I do not think it is correct to state that the local rates are not making the full contribution. I was rather surprised at Senator Anthony——

Where are we?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Might I point out to Senator Fitzsimons that the Parliamentary Secretary was concluding the debate on the Second Reading? The Senator seems to be making his Second Reading speech now.

We have the Committee and final stages before us yet.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

What Senator Fitzsimons has to say can be dealt with on the Committee Stage.

I bow to the decision of the Chair.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining stages to-day.
Sections 1 and 2 agreed to without amendment.
Title agreed to.
Question—"That the Bill be received for final consideration"—put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

There are one or two points which need to be cleared up. We should like to hear the Parliamentary Secretary in relation to the point raised by Senator Fitzsimons and, earlier, by me, namely, the amount of money made available to local authorities——

For the relief of rates on agricultural land, only.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell us the total amount of rate demand for this year? If we had that figure we could compare it with the figures which applied over the past two or three years—and I may say that I think we should find that there has been a substantial increase. We read in the daily papers that as a result of forced economy in my colleague's, Senator O'Dwyer's, county there has been an increase of no less than 4/- in the £.

Was it during his term of office?

If Senator Baxter wants to know the reasons he will have them. It was because of the reduction by the Minister for Local Government in the road grants to every county in Ireland to a sum of £2,500,000. As a result of that reduction in the road grants, every county council has had to face the problem of whether they should maintain the roads in the condition in which they should be maintained or whether they should put men out of employment, which would result in the emigration of these men. The position in various counties has been that county councils have been faced with a huge demand to restore the roads to the condition in which they were two or three years ago.

The Parliamentary Secretary, and I think also Senator Anthony, stated that it made very little difference, as long as John Citizen had to pay, which pocket he had to take his money out of—whether it was the pocket from which he paid his rates or the pocket from which he paid his taxes. I submit that there is a very real difference, because taxation, for example, is levied over some variety of goods in general demand and, therefore, falls lightly. On the other hand, there are only two days which you have on which to pay rates and you have to pay them in bulk. Anybody in the country will tell you that if they had the choice of paying taxation in instalments rather than in bulk they would prefer to pay a small instalment rather than to have to face a large rate demand.

It would depend on whether they are ratepayers or not.

At present, huge demands are being made on local authorities in respect of hospitalisation, sanatoria and public health services in general.

There is provision in the Public Health Act to meet the outlay of the local authorities until it reaches the fifty-fifty stage. The majority of county councils will reach that stage either this year or next year and the demand that will be placed on the ratepayers will represent a greater burden on them.

Why are you crossing your bridges before you meet them? We have not reached that stage yet.

Apparently Senator Baxter is satisfied that this state of affairs should continue and that the Government should transfer its responsibility in regard to every Bill in so far as charges on the taxpayers and ratepayers are concerned. If that is the view which Senator Baxter holds —he is a representative of the agricultural community in this House—then I should like to see him going down the country and getting the agricultural community to agree with that view.

Fianna Fáil put that Bill there.

On a point of order. Is there anything in this Bill which places a burden upon any community? This is the Fifth Stage of the Bill and we are discussing what is in it, namely, the relief of rates—and not the imposition of a burden on agricultural land. Is Senator Hawkins not confined to a discussion on the relief of rates? Could he not find another opportunity for discussing the Health Bill?

While I agree with the point of order raised by Senator Hayes, I should like to point out that this Bill places a burden in order to bring relief to the ratepayers. If it does not matter which pocket the money comes out of, may I say that it has to come out of John Citizen's pocket, anyhow?

I should like to refer to the remark by Senator Bennett about sacking the women. This Bill definitely stipulates that the relief is given on the basis of the permanent employment of each man. I think that the idea when the Bill was originally introduced was the giving of relief in respect of constant employment so as to increase constant employment as against casual employment. The point I want to make is that it is the duty of either the Parliamentary Secretary, the Minister or the Government to take the necessary steps now or in the near future to ensure that employment on the land will be confined to men. It seemed to be generally accepted in the House as a sort of joke that women might be employed on the land. I would like to point out that during the emergency women were employed very largely on the land in England. A good many Irishwomen were employed on English farms during that period. The reason why it was possible to employ female labour was because of mechanised transport. I would like to suggest that if the present policy of the Government, as enunciated by the Minister for Agriculture, is to bring about a situation where the horses and ploughs will be in the museum in ten years— Senator Hayes smiles.

I am thinking of where tractors are in this Bill.

What I am saying has a big bearing on this Bill. Senator Hayes was in the Chair one time. He is not in it to-day. I think it is bad——

Can I be kept from thinking?

——to be attempting to run the House when he is not in the Chair. If that policy is allowed to continue and is encouraged by the Government and the Minister for Agriculture, who is apparently the man responsible, a situation will be arrived at where women will be employed on the land in actual fact. I think the Government should take steps now, as a result of the debate on this Bill, to provide that men will not only be employed all the year around but that in so far as it is possible male labour will be employed. If you are going to allow mechanised transport to take over, the tendency will be for people to employ female labour on the land even if provision is not made in the Bill. Over and above the fact that that would be undesirable from various points of view, I am always inclined to harp back on the idea that the maintenance of horse transport on farms is really the backbone of several industries in this country. I would appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to make a note of what I have said, to think over it, and see if there is not something in the suggestion I have made.

Question put and agreed to.
Ordered: That the Bill be returned to the Dáil.