I have nothing against the Bill as submitted, but this question of rates on agricultural land is a very important one and one to which any Government should be directing attention at present. Since we entered the EEC this matter of agriculture and agricultural products is tremendously important. While I appreciate that on a Bill such as this it might not be relevant to discuss the plight in which farmers at present find themselves, nevertheless, it is fair to say that there is a definite connection and that anything that depletes or increases the income of a farmer is something that should be examined very closely.
Our economy depends to a great extent on farming and farm products, and many of our industries are connected with farming. But for the fact that farmers are in the front line in producing their products, not alone would there be many people out of work but there would be a further increase in the 80,000 people that are at present unemployed. In a situation such as that, any Government that is conscious of what is happening— especially this Coalition Government who have come into office recently and who, while in Opposition, advocated many changes in this policy of rates on agricultural land and who now have the opportunity of doing something about this matter—should not just come in here and present the same legislation as we could have got and were getting down through the years from the Fianna Fáil Government.
There is one item in particular— the £17 relief that is given to a farmer if he employes somebody on his farm during the year. This is a joke in 1974, because £17 was a very small figure even 20 years ago. If it was of any benefit to the farmer at that time, it is certainly not of any benefit to him at present. It certainly would not convince any farmer to keep a workman in his employment and, to qualify for this £17, he has to keep him in employment for the whole year. For that reason, that part of the Bill should have been amended. The farmer's daughter does not qualify for this relief. There are many farmers who do not have a son to inherit the farm, and it is wrong that if there is a daughter on the farm she should be denied this benefit.
The Government should direct their attention to this question of rates on agricultural land and valuation. We know now that many of these valuations are unrealistic. There was some land highly valued under the Griffith Act because it could grow flax. Flax is no longer being grown, and this valuation still remains on the land. Farmers can find themselves in that predicament, especially Northern farmers. A great deal of flax was grown in the counties of Cavan and Monaghan and Donegal. The farmers there find that the rates on agricultural land is a great burden on them.
Recently the Government introduced another tax on the farmer, that is income tax. They were heavily loaded in 1974 without having this added on. Some of them may have been looking forward to some relief in rates. If this policy of imposing income tax on farmers is to continue, then this question of rates must be examined and rates on agricultural land must be abolished if this country is to progress as it should progress under EEC membership. I know it will cost money but it will be money well spent. The farmers would be as willing as anybody else to pay their share of taxes. Those of us who pay rates know that in many cases there is no allowance made for the financial circumstances of the ratepayer. You may make claims against income tax, but rates are a tremendously heavy burden.
Recently people have been granted some slight exemption but it is negligible and useless now, especially this year. While I cannot say that I am against these measures, the fault I have to find with them is that the old figures have been left, the farmers still find they have to pay rates, and there is no incentive whatever given to anybody to help them to remain on the land. If that was the reason why the £17 was put in there it was ridiculous. An allowance of at least £100 for a farmer who is paying heavy rates might be some inducement to him to keep a man working on his farm, but the suggested amount will be useless.