The main proposals of this Bill are, firstly, to provide for the establishment and administration by An Foras Tionscal of industrial estates, with factory premises for renting, in development centres and, secondly, to continue in operation for a further period the scheme of enlargement and adaptation grants to assist industrial undertakings in preparing for free trade conditions.
With regard to industrial estates, Senators will have seen the Report of the Committee on Development Centres and Industrial Estates and the statement of policy indicating the Government's attitude to the proposals in the Report. For the convenience of Senators I might recall that it is the intention on completion of the regional surveys being undertaken by the Minister for Local Government to identify development centres in each region. Meanwhile, it is proposed to proceed with the development of industrial estates at Waterford and Galway. The necessary powers to enable An Foras Tionscal to establish and administer industrial estates are contained in section 4 of the Bill and there is nothing in this provision to restrict the location of industrial estates to particular areas.
I should like to make it clear that the identification of development centres and the setting up of industrial estates is not intended to involve the discouragement of industrial development at other locations. The Government have already indicated in the policy statement to which I have referred that the dispersal of industrial activity throughout the country, where this is economically feasible, yields important social advantages, and that, in the administration of the industrial grants scheme, the location of industries in other centres will be encouraged. It is confidently expected, however, that the development of industrial estates will attract thereto industries which might not be located in Ireland at all but for the facilities offered at these estates.
It is also proposed in the Bill that An Foras Tionscal should be empowered to make available, at reduced rents, factory premises situated in industrial estates administered by An Foras Tionscal and also to make grants available towards the reduction of rents for factory premises situated in what may be termed private industrial estates. This power is inherent in the provisions of section 4 of the Bill in relation to estates administered by An Foras Tionscal and a specific provision is made in section 9 in relation to estates in the other category. Where factories are made available at reduced rents it is the intention that the reduction in rent would not be more advantageous to the industrialist than the equivalent grant which could be given under the existing legislation.
Senators will, I am sure, agree that the industrial grants scheme which has been in operation for a considerable time and under which assistance is provided in appropriate cases to industrialists who build their own factories, has been an important factor in the progress so far achieved in industrial development. I am satisfied that the provision of factories on industrial estates at attractive rents will represent a significant extension of the range of incentives available for industrial development and, therefore, should stimulate activity among industrialists contemplating industrial projects that are suitable for location in an industrial estate.
Under the existing legislation the aggregate maximum expenditure provided for in relation to grants which the Minister for Industry and Commerce may make to An Foras Tionscal is £30 million. It is not proposed to increase this amount, at least for the time being. Section 3 of the Bill proposes, however, to increase from £20 million to £30 million the aggregate amount of grants An Foras Tionscal may make for industrial development. The provision for grants made by An Foras Tionscal will thus be brought into line with the provision for grants made to An Foras Tionscal by the Minister for Industry and Commerce.
It is also proposed, in section 5 of the Bill, that An Foras Tionscal should be empowered to recruit staff for the administration of industrial estates. As the type of work involved will be more akin to commercial activities than normal Civil Service procedures it is desirable that An Foras Tionscal should have this power so as to ensure flexibility in staffing arrangements both in the administrative and technical spheres.
The legislation which enabled An Foras Tionscal to assist firms by way of special grants, not exceeding 25 per cent of cost, expired on the 31st March, 1966. The Government feel that if the impetus towards adaptation which has been generated is to be maintained and strengthened the continuation of the grants scheme is necessary and one of the purposes of this Bill is to extend the operation of the scheme to the 31st December, 1967, as provided for in section 2 of the Bill.
In March last I had the "Report of the Progress of Industrial Adaptation" prepared and presented to the House. Senators will have seen from this report the steps which have been taken to prepare industry to meet the challenge of freer trade. As the report also indicates the work of industrial adaptation is by no means complete. However the failure of some firms to make use of the assistance provided and the lack of progress in certain directions mentioned in the report may be due to the uncertainty that had obtained regarding our future trading relations. With the signing of the Free Trade Area Agreement this uncertainty has been largely dispelled and it is to be expected that more firms will urgently carry out the necessary measures of adaptation.
As is indicated in the report, up to 31st December, 1965, some 600 firms had formulated adaptation proposals representing a capital investment of over £55 million. Adaptation Councils for the various industries have been applying themselves to the solution of the problems highlighted in the reports of the Committee on Industrial Organisation. Some councils have achieved fairly satisfactory results. Others have not as yet made any real impact on some of the wider aspects of adaptation, such as joint marketing, exporting, training etc, which involve co-operative effort between individual firms in the same industry or in related industries. There is an urgent need for a great burst of activity in those aspects of adaptation—equally urgent, as I have said before in another place, with the need for further progress in physical adaptation by way of installation of new and modern equipment, expansion of buildings and improvement in techniques. I am confident that the desired progress will be made as I think industry is now far more aware of the need for adapatation measures than it was when the legislation was first introduced. This is, of course, only to be expected. The conclusion of the trade agreement with Britain brings us to the threshold of free trade and it is only the most ostrich-like mentality that could in the present circumstances ignore the need for radical changes in all aspects of industry. Evidence of the new and more realistic outlook is afforded by a sharp increase in the number of applications for special grants received in the quarter ended 31st March, 1966.
There is still a great deal of adaptation work to be done. Even though quite an amount has been achieved we must continue to build on this. Action cannot now be postponed. Now is the time for an all-out effort to ensure what still remains to be done will be tackled with energy and completed with speed. Section 2 of the Bill provides one of the means of continuing to assist those industries which are willing to prepare themselves to make proper provisions for the future.
I recommend the Bill for the approval of the Seanad.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald rose.