I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.
This Bill provides that the Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Act, 1946, shall apply to the local financial year ending on the 31st March, 1951. As Deputies are aware, the 1946 Act applied to the two financial years 1946-47 and 1947-48. Its operation was continued in the financial year 1948-49 by the Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Act, 1947, and in the financial year 1949-50 by the Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Act, 1948.
The Bill now before the House merely proposes to continue the 1946 Act for a further year. There is no new principle involved; all the Bill will do is to continue the agricultural grant on its present basis for the current year.
While I have no doubt that the great majority of the members of this House are familiar with this matter, it may be of some assistance if I give a brief outline of the history of the agricultural grant.
Provision for the agricultural grant was first made in the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898. The grant was fixed at the sum of £599,011, which represented half the amount raised off agricultural land by poor rate and county cess in the previous year. The amount of the grant remained unaltered until 1925, when it was doubled. In 1931 a further sum of £750,000 was added, bringing the total to £1,948,022. Between 1932 and 1936 the grant was increased on two occasions and reduced on two occasions, the amount being fixed at £1,870,000 in respect of the year 1935-36. The basis of distribution was also changed in these years. The grant was continued at the figure of £1,870,000 until the 1946 Act came into operation in the financial year 1946-47.
Under the 1946 Act the arrangement by which a grant of a fixed amount was paid was terminated. The Act provided for a grant of such a sum as would be needed to give reliefs on the following basis:—
(1) A primary allowance at the rate of three-fifths of the general rate on land valuations not exceedind £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 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.
This meant that the grant would in future vary in amount according as the county rate and the number of men at work varied. The effect of the Act was that the grant, which since 1935-36 was fixed at £1,870,000, increased to £2,910,378 in 1946-47, to £3,175,726 in 1947-48, to £3,624,035 in 1948-49, and to £3,971,722 in the year 1949-50. The figure for 1949-50 shows an increase of about 112 per cent. as compared with 1945-46, the year preceding the coming into operation of the 1946 Act. The extent of the rate relief afforded by the grant is apparent from the fact that though the average gross rate in county health districts for 1949-50 was 22/7¾d. in the £, the average net rate assessed on agricultural land was 11/3½d. In other words, due to the operation of the grant, the rates payable by the farmers were slightly less than half what they would otherwise have been.
In view of the fact that the average general rate in the £ in county health districts is about the same as last year's figure, I expect that the grant in the current year will be roughly the same as in 1949-50. The total sum of £3,971,722 paid in 1949-50 was divided as follows:—Primary allowance, £2,667,760; supplementary allowance, £708,842; employment allowance, £583,565; amount paid to urban councils, £11,555.
As I explained at the outset, the present Bill does not propose to make any alteration in the basis of distribution of the agricultural grant. It is a continuing measure and the principles on which it is based have been accepted by Deputies on a number of occasions. These principles were very fully discussed and explained during the debate on the motion for the derating of agricultural land which was before the House last November. I do not think that Deputies will want me to go over all the ground that was covered on that occasion, even if the Ceann Comhairle allowed me to do so. Accordingly I feel that I can confidently ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.