Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 11 Jul 1962

Vol. 196 No. 12

Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Bill, 1962. — Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The purpose of the Bill is to give legislative effect to the Government's proposals, as already announced by the Minister for Finance, to grant increased rate reliefs to farmers. The Bill will apply to the three financial years ending on the 31st March, 1965, and provides for the amendment of the Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Acts in four respects. It will increase from 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. the primary allowance on land valuations up to £20 and on the first £20 of higher valuations. It will provide a supplementary allowance of 25 per cent. of the general rate on land valuations over £20. It will reduce the minimum qualifying age for the employment allowance from 17 to 16 years. Finally, it will enable the total Grant to be paid from voted moneys, instead of partly from the Central Fund and partly from voted moneys as at present.

Under these proposals the Agricultural Grant will amount to approximately £8.6 millions in the current year, an increase of £2¾ millions on the total amount paid last year.

The Agricultural Grant was first given under the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898. The basis of its distribution and the total amount of the Grant has been altered on a number of occasions. Between 1898 and 1946, however, the amount of the Grant was always a fixed amount, stipulated by each successive Act.

The Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Act, 1946, made a radical departure in the method of calculation of the Grant and set the pattern for all subsequent legislation in the matter. Since that measure was enacted, the amount of the Grant has been related to the actual rates struck by county councils in each financial year.

The 1946 Act provided that the Grant would be the sum needed to give relief on the following basis:

(1) a primary allowance at the rate of three-fifths of the general rate in the £ on the land valuation up to £20;

(2) a supplementary allowance of one-fifth of the general rate in the £ on the land valuation over £20; and

(3) an employment allowance, calculated at the rate of 10/-in the £ on the land valuation over £20, subject to the limitation that the allowance should not exceed £6 10s. for each adult workman at work on the holding during the whole of the preceding calendar year.

An amending Act in 1953 abolished the supplementary allowance, increased the employment allowance to £17 per workman, but left the primary allowance unchanged. This method of distribution was continued up to and including the last financial year. The total of the Grant grew from £599,011 in 1898 to £2.91 million in 1946/47, and to £5.84 million last year.

Sections 1, 3 and 4 of the Bill now before the House provide for the payment of the increased primary allowance of seven-tenths of the general rate, and the supplementary allowance of a quarter of the general rate on land valuations over £20.

Under the old legislation, the primary allowance would have increased to an estimated £5.085 million in the current year. The amendments now being made will result in a further increase to an estimated £5.935 million. Thus, the primary allowance alone in the current year will exceed by a considerable amount the total of the Grant paid last year.

The total Supplementary Allowance will amount to an estimated £1.7 million in the current year. When the Supplementary allowance was given previously — between the years 1946 and 1953 — it amounted to one-fifth of the general rate as against the allowance of one-quarter under this Bill.

The £17 employment allowance first introduced under the 1953 Act is being continued. Up to the present a workman in respect of whom this allowance could be granted had to be at least 17 years of age at the commencement of the qualifying period. Section 2 of the Bill provides for the reduction of the minimum qualifying age to 16 years which is the age at which a person becomes insurable under the Social Welfare Acts. It is difficult to make an accurate estimate of the cost of implementing this proposal, but it will probably be around £90,000 in the current financial year.

The provision in Section 5 is to ensure that the total of the employment allowances and the supplementary allowances in any case will not exceed the total rates on the land valuation over £20.

Under Section 48 of the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, the basic Agricultural Grant, introduced by that Act and amounting to £599,011 yearly, is paid from the Central Fund, while the balance of the Grant is defrayed from a special Vote accounted for by the Minister for Finance. Section 6 proposes, in effect, that the full amount of the grant shall be met in future from voted moneys.

As I have stated earlier, the total allowances provided under the Bill will amount to an estimated £8.6 million in the current year and will afford farmers relief to the extent of 57 per cent. of the gross rates leviable on agricultural land. As a result the net rates payable by farmers on agricultural land in the current year will be below the amounts paid by them in 1956/57. I commend the Bill to the House.

Naturally, people welcome anything that means a reduction in the amount of the outgoings they may have to meet, but that does not at all imply that the manner in which a Government have allocated that reduction is accepted on all sides as being the wisest method of allocation. Quite apart from that, as I understand from the Minister's speech the Bill now before the House will involve during the current year — I should like the Minister's confirmation on this — a sum of £2,750,000 which will be payable out of the Exchequer.

The Minister for Finance in his Budget statement provided a sum of £2,500,000 and, accordingly, this means, as I understand the speech the Minister for Local Government has now made, that we have another Supplementary Estimate already, three months after the Budget, for £250,000. If I have clearly understood the Minister, it seems extraordinary that the Government were not in a position at Budget time accurately and properly to make their calculations. This is yet another instance of the manner in which the Government do not appear properly to work out their business in advance as a responsible Government would do.

Everyone accepts without question that the burden of rates on ratepayers is not merely a rising one but one which has almost become stifling in recent years. The tables in the Statistical Abstract for 1960, which I think provide the latest figures available — certainly they are the latest available to me, looking for them in a hurry — show that in 1939 the total amount collected in rates throughout the entire country was £6,271,000 and that in the year ending 31st March, 1960, this sum had risen to £21,420,000. The amount in the two years since then, and particularly in the year to the 31st March, 1962, had, of course, risen very substantially more.

Those members of the House who want to remember such a fact will know, and the public will know from the publicised document at the time, that we in this Party in the General Election of last year published in a specific manner in our programme a proposal to assist in the reduction of rates by a different method of paying for certain health charges. Of course, we would all like to have a situation in which we could get our benefits without paying for them but that is not possible. It, therefore, becomes a question of deciding in what manner the health services should be paid for. The services, are, as the Government themselves admitted quite readily this year, not satisfactory. Apart from their not being satisfactory in themselves, the method of payment has not been regarded as satisfactory either. For that reason among others, we in the Fine Gael Party submitted in our policy, and we retain as part of the policy of this Party still, a proposal that certain health services should be dealt with on an insurance principle which would have the effect of relieving to some extent the burden on ratepayers.

It is unfortunate that the Government did not in that respect, as they have done in many others, accept automatically after the General Election certain points of our policy because then we would not have in this year one of the difficulties which will be imposed by this Bill. The Bill does provide some relief for the farmers, for those who are engaged in agriculture, our primary industry. To that extent and to the extent that it helps to reduce overheads, it is welcome, but it has one fundamental fault — that it provides no better relief for the efficient farmer than for the inefficient farmer; that it provides no better relief for the man who is doing his utmost to ensure his holding is producing as much as it possibly can for the nation than it does for the man who is letting his holding for grazing or in conacre.

It surely would be a better solution of the problem in relation to agriculture that whatever moneys were to be spent for reducing the overheads of those engaged in agriculture would be spent on the efficient farmers rather than that some of it should be siphoned off the efficient farmer and paid to his neighbour and colleague who is not making the effort he is. Under this Bill the person who lets his land completely will get exactly the same benefit as the person who is working not a 40-hour week but one very nearly double that, as many farmers, particularly small holders engaged in milk production and dairying, have to do.

I agree at once that this is an easier method of distributing the reduction of overheads but the fact that it is an easier method does not say it is a better one. On the contrary, in my view it is a worse one and does not provide an incentive towards better production. As well as that, we all know that in rural Ireland to-day there are people who are hit as badly as the farmers have been by rising costs. They are the small shopkeepers in the smaller towns and villages who have been finding their costs rising all around them, and at the same time as their overheads have been increasing substantially they find no relief whatever in this Bill in respect of the rates they have to pay. That, too, is another way in which the Minister is wrong in not providing in his Bill adequate assistance for those people.

I am disappointed to find there is not in this Bill some statutory recognition of the difficulties that regularly arise throughout the country in relation to the employment allowance. I accept that the purpose of an employment allowance should be to provide permanent employment on a holding and that any variation in the conditions of that allowance which would assist or provide an incentive for irregular employment would not be a good thing. At the same time, we all know there are very often considerable difficulties where a man leaves his employment in replacing him immediately, particularly if a person should happen to leave his employment in Kildare, for example, at the height of the turf-cutting season. It may be very difficult at that moment to get another employee to replace the man who has gone, whether it be through death, illness or his getting other employment.

A Minister said on a previous occasion that a period of a month was regarded in certain circumstances as being reasonable for qualification for the allowance, even though there was a month's interruption during the year. That is not long enough. At certain times during the year, it would be very difficult to replace within that period a man doing a particular job. That should be lengthened to two months, or, alternatively, where there has been a break in the year's employment up to a period of three months, the employment of an additional man at another period of the year should be allowed to be taken into account. Very often a person who has failed to get someone during the turf season will take on two men immediately the turf season ends for the purpose of catching up on arrears of work. Account should be taken of that and it should be allowed to cover the permanent period for the year.

In general, no one ever likes criticising a Bill which proposes to reduce individual expenditure, but it is an undoubted fact that this Bill, although providing a reduction in expenditure, does not distinguish, as good legislation should distinguish, between the efficient producer and the person who does not wish to produce at all. It does not provide any solution to the problem of the small shopkeeper and small ratepayer in the towns and villages in rural Ireland and it does not provide any amelioration of the difficulty that arises from the interruption of permanent employment during any year. For that reason, I would suggest the Minister would be well advised to consider between now and the Committee Stage how he could meet these points.

The Labour Party do not oppose this Bill. We appreciate the agricultural community are entitled to some concessions at present. At the same time, we believe the Bill is not the best Bill that could be brought in in the circumstances. Everybody knows the origin of the Bill. The Minister was forced to accede to the demands of the agricultural community to give them some increase in their standard of living just the same as other sections have got. The Minister thought the best way of doing this was by absolving them from some of the demands on them by way of relief of rates.

We have had a good deal of talk at local authority meetings about the advantages that accrue from this measure, but the Minister has given us the actual figures involved. The small farmers, particularly those with an average valuation of £30 or less, are the most hard working type of farmer we have. In the constituency I represent, we have a large number of farmers with valuations of less than £30, and that position obtains all along the western seaboard. They have to work hard in order to eke out an existence from the land, much of which is of an indifferent nature.

Take the farmer of £20 valuation in County Cork, where the rate is 44/- in the £. What benefits will he get from this Bill? He will get £4 8s. annually, or less than 2/- a week. As a result of this Bill, his income is increased by about 1/8d. or 1/9d. a week. That is what he gets from the Fianna Fáil Government as a result of this Bill. Take the farmer of £10 valuation, of whom there are a large number in the country. We find that such farmers in Cork will get about £2 4s. a year or about 9d. or 10d. a week.

I am aware that the farmers, particularly the small farmers, feel they are getting much greater advantages from this measure than they are getting. It is not the responsibility of the Minister for Local Government to deal with agricultural development, and we will be speaking on it later on the Agriculture Estimate. But I think the dice has been loaded very much against the small farmer in this Bill. In my county, he is benefiting to the extent of 2s. a week. Deputy Sweetman told us about the inefficient farmer benefiting just as much as the efficient farmer. That is so. We have a big number of farmers in the midlands who do not work their land at all but let it to others. They will get the full benefit. I think it is 25 per cent. on valuations exceeding £20.

I had hoped the Minister might have given greater consideration to the small farmer. You, Sir, appreciate what 2s. a week means to anyone at present. It means little or nothing. I want to make it quite clear again that for the small farmer in Cork of £20 valuation, it means about 1s. 9d. per week, and for the farmer with £10 valuation, less than 1s. a week; but in Kildare, Westmeath and Meath, it could mean a couple of pounds weekly to the big farmers. I am disappointed that greater help has not been given and that indeed there is not absolute relief from rates for the small farmer. We have heard from various public men, indeed from members of the Government, that the small farmer is the backbone of the country. Now we are giving him this great increase in his income — 2s. a week in the case of the farmer of £20 valuation and about 9½d. per week in the case of the farmer of £10 valuation.

The background to this matter of the agricultural rate is very interesting. For the past 12 months, we have had farmers all over Ireland organising themselves into protest groups. In every county I have read about, they have marched to the headquarters of the county council, protested strongly against the high rates and called upon the local authority and the Government to do something about them. The Government's answer to a genuine problem was to throw this bone as if to a crowd of dogs— the that-should-keep-them-quiet idea. This is the greatest waste of money that could be thought up by any allegedly responsible Government. The Government are showing utter contempt for the small farmer in the manner in which this money is being allocated.

Deputy Murphy mentioned the small farmer with £20 valuation and said that he benefits to a certain degree only. It is only right that we should have the exact statistics so that the public will know how this money is being spent. Over 70 per cent. of the holdings in Ireland are under £20 valuation. That 70 per cent. are getting on an average a rebate of less than £2 per year as a result of this measure which is allegedly increasing the rebate. The remaining 30 per cent. of the farmers are getting an average of over £13 per year so we can see which way the dice is loaded. The majority of 70 per cent., the small men, are getting less than £2 extra of a rebate in a year while the man with a valuation of over £20 gets an average extra rebate of over £13.

That is the first point only. That is the start of the loading of the dice in favour of the big holder, but that is only part of the story. Last year in the 26 Counties, over 825,000 acres of land were let on the 11 months system. Members on both sides of the House have been condemning for years the letting of the best land in the country on the 11 months system. The people responsible for letting those 825,000 acres for mining purposes or to exploit the land are the people who are benefiting most under this agricultural rebate.

Is this measure not an incentive to the further sub-letting of land? Is it not an incentive to the lazy and inefficient farmer to keep on in the same old routine as he has adopted for the past 20 or 30 years? Is it not an incentive to the gentleman farmer to spend his time in Dublin, knowing perfectly well that the Government are prepared to give him an agricultural rebate when he sets his land, and knowing that the richness and fertility of the land that is being set is gradually being mined away?

Especially when we are faced with a serious issue like the Common Market, I think the Government have taken a very backward step indeed. If we were in association with the Common Market countries, I think this step would be disapproved of by that group because it condones inefficiency and actually encourages it. There is nothing whatever in this measure to induce, persuade or encourage the small farmer, the good farmer, to produce more. Instead, there is an incentive to set their land and go to live perhaps in Dublin or in the large towns, and forget about the most important possession of this nation, namely, the soil.

At the same time, the Government are telling us that they are helping the agricultural community, that the farmers are getting a sum of over £8,000,000 to ease the burden of the rates on their holdings. The townsman and the worker have a feeling that the farmer is being spoonfed, with the result that a feeling of animosity or antagonism is created within the different sections of the community. They believe that the small farmer is being mollycoddled but that is far from the truth. If there is any mollycoddling, it is mollycoddling of the inefficient farmer, the lazy farmer, the conacre farmer and the telephone farmer.

The small holder is put to the pin of his collar to rear his family. No real help or encouragement in any form is given to him by the State. The result of that lack of encouragement is that the small holders with their families are packing their bags and selling their holdings or turning the key in the door and moving out of the country. The Government set up a commission recently to investigate what steps could be taken to improve the conditions of the small farmers, in the light of the proposal to join the Common Market. That inter-Departmental committee recommended that certain steps should be taken to buttress the small holders and give them a chance of remaining in their own country, but not a single one of those proposals has been implemented. Instead, the Government have deliberately given an incentive to those who do not use their land, who have no time for it, and who are so lazy that they do not feel like carrying out their responsibilities to the State by a proper utilisation of their land.

Some Deputies may say that this measure should not be opposed but I want to make it quite clear that a stand must be taken at some stage. It is vital that it should be taken now before it is too late. Each year this rebate goes on in its present form will make the situation worse in rural Ireland. It is not sufficient for Fine Gael or any Opposition Party to criticise the Government by saying this measure helps the inefficient farmer only. This has been going on down through the years and so far no Government have had the courage to tackle it because, it would appear, they were afraid of the political consequences involved, or that the lazy and inefficient farmer has so much influence that he might harm the political fortunes of the Parties in the State.

I represent a rural area, an area where there is very little industrial employment. I am satisfied that the people I represent would prefer an alternative system to help them with their rates. They would prefer to see credit loans made available, money made available at low rates of interest for the purchase of machinery and fertilisers, or money spent on providing marketing arrangements for their produce. They hate the idea of being treated as if they are practically paupers, and being told that they are getting something for nothing, that with a valuation of under £20 they are getting this £1.13. or £1.18., and that they should be thankful to the Government for being so good to them.

The Government are not pulling the wool over the eyes of the hardworking small farmers with this kind of measure. Apart from that, the Government are doing damage to the national interest by prolonging this type of legislation which is an incentive to laziness on the part of the large farmers. Instead of giving an agricultural rebate to the man with 200 acres and upwards who is not utilising his land, the Government should be bringing in a measure to double the rate of taxation on the particular individual who is not utilising his land properly. For every acre he sets he should be penalised by way of an increase in his rates rather than have his rates reduced. If that action were taken by the Government responsible people in our community — the small farmer, the business man, the worker, the industrialist and everybody else — would be behind the Government. If the Government were to take that action they would increase efficiency and give the people confidence in them because the people would see that there was fair-play. In addition, the inefficient and lazy farmer, the rancher and the exploiter, would have to improve his agricultural production or else get out. By getting out he would create a large pool of land which would enable the Land Commission to solve many congestion problems. I am not in a position to force the Parties in this House to throw this measure out, but I want to be taken as protesting as strongly as I possibly can against the introduction of this measure, which will promote inefficiency and laziness, when, simultaneously, the Government are applying with such confidence for admission into the European Economic Community.

The provision in this Bill reducing the qualifying age for the employment allowance from 17 years to 16 years is to my mind the most attractive provision in it. For a number of years I have repeatedly asked that this should be done. I welcome the provision now. We have to cope with the problem of the flight from the land and the difficulty of holding our people in agricultural employment. It is precisely at this age that young people decide whether they will remain on the land or seek employment elsewhere. One of the factors aggravating the employment position on the land was the fact that this allowance was not available to the farmer who employed a youth of 16. I welcome the reduction in the age now. This has always been a pet subject of mine.

I regret that no easement has been effected in the condition relating to the debarring of employment from recognition in the case of a poor law valuation of £5 or over. I regard that ceiling as entirely too low. It precludes a person with a miserable holding of £6, £7, or £8 valuation from securing employment with his neighbour because the neighbour cannot avail of the employment allowance. It should be clear by now to all members of this House that it is impossible for a man to derive a livelihood from such a miserable holding. I know many instances in my constituency where people have been compelled to abandon agricultural employment because the farmer felt he would have to reduce the wages he could pay by the amount of the allowance he could not obtain for giving employment to these individuals. I ask the Minister to avail of the first opportunity that presents itself to examine into that aspect of the employment allowance.

I regret, too, that greater recognition was not given to the part female labour plays in agricultural production. Particularly in the dairying areas female assistants play a dominant part in the contribution towards increased agricultural production. I should like to see some incentives given and some additional recognition of the part that section of our community is playing in our agricultural industry.

With regard to the rate relief afforded, I am at one with those who have already spoken in welcoming the decision to relieve the burdensome situation in relation to the increase in rates upon the ratepayer in recent years. We would have preferred if the Government had adopted the device of giving this relief by a transference of Health Act charges because that would mean the town dweller, who has considerable difficulties today, could be afforded some relief in rates. But there is no provision in this Bill to assist him.

In relation to the relief for farmers, as Deputy Murphy has said, that is a direct consequence of the vigorous protests made in recent months by those affected by the rising spiral of rates and the difficulties they were encountering at a time when the cost of living was increasing and they were getting no commensurate increase in their incomes. While the value of money had fallen many of them suffered a diminution in their incomes and they were, at the same time, faced with an ever-increasing burden of rates. It is in response to vigorous protests that the Government decided to take action.

This action is welcome in so far as it relieves the situation for some people. No doubt it gives greater relief to some than it does to others. That has been clearly indicated. In so far as relief has been given to the larger farmer, the relief is a worthy relief in the circumstances in which that farmer works his land to the best of his ability. I am satisfied that such large farmers, who give good employment and who work hard and industriously, will plough back into their land by way of increased investment and greater fertilisation the amounts of which they will be relieved.

We know, however, that there are people in our community who are not using their land to the best advantage from the point of view of the community as a whole. We know there are people who let their land in conacre. It would be a good thing if it were indicated to these people that they will be expected to give some relief to the industrious farmers' sons, and others, who take this land in conacre since they are the people who are really making the contribution for the benefit of the community as a whole.

It is not a fact that there will be any increase in income to anybody in consequence of this relief. This is a measure which abates the impact of higher production costs and rates on those who operate our premier industry. It is for these reasons we approve of this measure but, as indicated by Deputy Sweetman, we would have preferred if the money it is proposed to invest in this particular way had been invested after a different fashion. This is the simplest administrative way of carrying out the operations the Government propose but it does not make any differentiation between the hardworking, industrious farmer and the individual who will gain considerably in many instances. At the same time, there will be no incentive or response from them with regard to increased production or the giving of greater employment. In relation to the smaller farmers the relief will be very minute indeed. We welcome the measure in so far as it extends to the hardworking and the industrious who give good employment, but the Government have taken the easy way out. No doubt it would have been possible for them to devise some other system making it clear that every £ in relief given would be reflected in better benefits to the community as a whole.

I shall conclude by again emphasising that aspect of the employment allowance which I regard as very unjust. I refer to the limitation of £5 poor law valuation restricting the opportunities for improved secure employment. This operates to divert from agricultural employment many men with miserably small holdings. It would at least be desirable to raise that ceiling to the £10 PLV level.

I welcome this Bill and the farmers of the country, whether big or small, also welcome it. Any person who has the interests of the agricultural community at heart will welcome any Bill or any scheme that will be beneficial to that section of the community. I am pleased to note a change of heart in some of the Opposition here today, a change of heart for men who actually went into the Lobby at the time the Budget was introduced and voted against relief——

That is not true.

The Deputy should read the records.

The Deputy should be sure of his facts before he makes such statements.

I am certain of my facts.

That is not true.

You went in and voted against raising the money for that purpose. Is that not true? Of course I am delighted they are accepting this, even though they tried to give matters a coat of paint of their own by stating that it was the marching farmers who forced the Government to do this. They know as well as I know that is not the case. Their memories should be as good as mine and they should remember seeing in the public Press even last year statements from Government quarters to the effect that this question of rates had become a big problem and that an attempt should be made to grapple with it. It was in pursuance of that policy that provision was made in the Budget for bringing relief to the farming community. In order to gain certain Party points, the Opposition have resorted to an old device, to divide and conquer. They have tried to divide the farmers on this issue by saying that certain sections are not benefiting as much as they should benefit under this Bill. Whether a farmer has a big holding or a small one, he will benefit proportionately.

Mention has been made of my county. If the previous speaker who is from my constituency goes into the figures relating to payment of rates on agricultural land for the present year, he will find that although there was an increase of something like 3/- in the £ to carry out public services throughout the county, with the relief now being afforded, the farmers will have to pay a net sum of somewhere near 2s. 6d. in the £ less than they paid last year. There is noise enough when the rates go up a few pence in the £ but when they come down 2s. or 2s. 6d., there is no credit for that. Some people want to blow hot and cold.

Even the ratepayers.

At times. That is only human nature. I agree with the appeal made by Deputy O'Sullivan that the standard of £5 for relief of rates for employment on agricultural land should be raised. It is definitely militating against employment in several parts of my county. While personally I always employ my staff for the full 12 months of the year, farmers in certain districts, through no fault of their own, cannot very well employ men for the full 12 months but may employ them for 10 or 11 months. A pro rata rate of relief in respect of those employees should be given to the farmers concerned for anything over a nine months' period every year but certainly over a ten months' period. In certain parts of the country, farm workers will take from one to two months' holidays every year. They will not work on the land. That is the system prevailing.

It must be the big wages they are getting.

It cannot be denied that that is the system. I would ask that that be taken into account. I conclude by offering my congratulations to the Minister and to the Government and assuring them that the farmers of Ireland are appreciative of the relief given by this measure.

While we do not oppose this measure, my objection to it is that it follows the same pattern of assistance to the agricultural industry as the pattern we have had over the years. That pattern means that the more you have, the more assistance you can get from the Government or from the Department of Agriculture and various other Departments. It seems the greater the need, the less help farmers get.

Deputy Meaney took some of us to task because we voted against the Budget proposals in this connection. We had no hesitation in doing so because the extra money raised was to be applied by a method with which we did not agree. The Budget proposals gave something like £2,000,000 or more for the relief of rates on agricultural land. That means some farmers will be saved some hundreds of pounds this year but that other farmers will be saved shillings per week. If one wants to relate this proposal to the Budget, it also means that the old age pensioner gets his 2/6d. on 1st August next. We in the Labour Party had no hesitation in voting against such proposals

The criticism I would make of that, whilst not opposing the idea of giving the assistance to the agricultural industry, is that the odd £2,000,000, if it is to be relief for farmers, is distributed in the wrong way. I know at least one farmer in my constituency who will benefit to the extent of £400. He is not that badly off that the Government should assist him to the extent of £400.

What would his annual rate payment be?

I have been told by a reliable source that that man will make £400 this year. Is a farmer who can qualify for that sort of assistance under this measure more in need of it than a farmer with, say, 30, 40 or 50 acres?

That is the general pattern of assistance to the agricultural industry. The more you have the more you can get by way of subsidy and grant.

Is that man employing labour?

Yes. He does not need relief to the extent of £400 per year, in present circumstances. I do not believe it. That is the same pattern that we have been employing down through the years in our assistance to the agricultural industry.

There must be only one such case in the County.

It is the one I have heard of.

We have plenty of them.

I think there should be a recasting of assistance to the agricultural industry generally, especially in respect of this proposal. It is the small and the middle-sized farmers who need assistance. Under this measure, those farmers will get a relatively small amount.

How do the rate collectors fare under this proposal? My information is that rate collectors will suffer a decrease in the poundage payable to them this year. Does this measure include any compensation for the rate collectors or is it the responsibility of the county council to make up to them for any loss in poundage they may suffer due to the fact that they will have fewer rates to collect? The Minister should let us know something about that. Whilst many farmers need the assistance given under this measure, I do not think it is right that in assisting one section of the community—admittedly, a very big section—another section, however small, should suffer any loss.

Mr. Donnellan

The appeal of Deputy Corish for the rate collectors makes me laugh.

At least that is something——

Mr. Donnellan

That is a compliment.

——to make Deputy Donnellan laugh at this hour of the morning.

Mr. Donnellan

As rates go up, of course, the rate collectors get their increase. That does happen. If this relief will be some advantage to the farmers then, if the rate collectors have a small amount of money to collect, I suppose they will be paid the usual poundage, regardless of what it is.

For over 20 years in this House I have made an appeal to successive Governments—a voice, I suppose, crying in the wilderness—in respect of rates on farmers up to £20 valuation who at the present time are unable to pay any rates. The relief that is given may be very suitable to some people. I know this was a rushed job. I know it was the marching farmers who were successful. While I know it was a rushed job, the relief that was given is all wrong.

I appeal to the Minister to give this matter very serious consideration when it comes up again next year or at some other period. Does he not realise that the man who needs relief is the small farmer with a valuation up to £20? Does the Minister not realise that that is the man who is leaving this country? He should be completely derated. There should be a sliding scale. For 20 years, I have been asking for this. While I am in this House—and I suppose that that will be for the rest of my life—I shall keep at it.

Tell us about your march with Lady Smith.

Mr. Donnellan

Senator Killilea used to be at that, not me.

Is he having a rest?

Mr. Donnellan

I did not have much interest in that class of business or that class of farmer, either—but Fianna Fáil have. I do not want to delay the House. There should be a change in this. As Deputy Corish pointed out, the people who are getting most out of this are the people who least require it. I know them—my own neighbours—and every Deputy knows the people I am talking about. They can live well without it. We must be impressed with the plight of the small man. He is the man who is going. My appeal, which has been going on here for the past 20 years and which will continue, is that there should be a complete derating for the man with a valuation of £20 or under. This Government or some other Government may not do it but it is something which must be done or else this class of people cannot stay here.

As one might expect, the opposition to this measure is very slight. While there may not be full agreement with its terms, and various suggestions have been made, nobody has really followed up these suggestions to any great degree. Just for the record, I shall comment on some of the statements which have been made, not all of which are borne out by the facts.

The first thing to which I should like to refer is that a discrepancy or an apparent discrepancy was mentioned in the estimate as announced in the Budget Statement as against the amount mentioned by me to-day relative to the additional money required to put the new reliefs into operation as proposed in this Bill and which were mentioned in the Budget. A sum of £2¾ million more will be needed in the coming year than was needed last year. Were there no such Bill as this and no additional reliefs, then the position, on the basis applying up to the moment, would be that, as a result of increased rates in the £, on average throughout the country, an additional £250,000 would be needed. Therefore, that £250,000 had already been taken into account plus the £2½ million mentioned by the Minister for Finance making, in all, £2¾ million which is the figure I have mentioned in this Bill.

Was the extra £250,000 already in the printed volume of Estimates?

Yes. It had been calculated on the basis of the old one and, therefore, it would have been carried through for this year plus £2½ million.

But was it in the published volume or has it arisen since the publication of the volume in February?

Yes, it was. It was included in the Book as an estimate, prepared in the ordinary way, which would have had to be paid.

So, in fact, no Supplementary is needed?

On all known figures and facts, on estimates, we do not think there will be but, of course, we cannot be too sure of that because some of these figures are only estimates until payments have been made or claimed.

It has been suggested here—a number of speakers followed the same line —that the more a farmer has, the more he can get. It might also be suggested, although not always agreed, that the more a farmer has, the more he needs. That is the case that has been made very strenuously in the recent past by those representing the farmers. Let us look at this suggestion that the small farmer is not getting anything and let us consider the suggestion made here to bring it down to shillings in the week, as was done by Deputy Murphy. I was waiting to hear the coins being clinked on the desk in front of him to demonstrate, lest we might not understand him otherwise, the amount of shillings and pence in the week being given in the form of rate relief.

The under £20 valuation farmers are almost 80 per cent. of the total number of farmers in the entire country. So far as these 80 per cent. of our farmers are concerned the average net payment of rates is £3 17s. per annum. Furthermore, there are other tables of interest which are well worth recording here in regard to these groups of valuation. One such item of interest is that eight out of ten farmers, for instance, will pay not more than £13 in rates this year; six out of every ten will pay not more than £8 2s.; five out of every ten will pay not more than £5 5s. When we come to talk about their reliefs, it comes out that this group of £20 valuation people pay on average £3 17s. in rates—now, on average—and I want that to be well noted. An average £3 17s. is what is paid by the £20 and under valuations and those same people, if they have no other means of livelihood are, for instance, under their county councils, entitled to medical services. The medical services for that group alone, under £20 valuation farmers, amount in all to over £4 million a year and, on average figures again, the cost per head is £3 17s. So that the amount paid in rates, on average, by the under £20 valuation farmers does not equal the amount that is required for health services alone which these people are entitled to during any year.

They are not entitled to it. They are not necessarily in the lower income group or regarded as being in the lower income group by the local authorities.

The farmers under £20 valuation form one-fifth of the total number entitled to those free medical services and as one-fifth of that amount, the cost in their respect is not less than £4 million per year, and on average figures again, that works out at about £3 17s. per head.

Does the Minister mean the lower income group for the purposes of the Health Act?

I am talking of what they get in free services regardless of whether it is lower income group service or middle income group service. The under £20 valuation group of farmers, in health services, get the equivalent of over £4 million paid on their behalf which, brought down to an average figure—which can be misleading but which, nevertheless, is an average figure—amounts to £3 17s. per head compared with their liability for all of their holdings under £20 valuation.

I think the Minister has got his figures wrong. There are 100,000 farmers. Multiply that by five and it is 500,000. That would imply a population of 8 million. The figures must be wrong.

The figure is wrong. I am sorry if I have misled the House. In fact, the health cost per head for that group is an average of £12 and the average amount payable in rates by the same group, per head, is £3 17s.

Then we have about 8 million in population.

Are all the farmers sick all the time?

Are the small farmers sick all the time?

No, but listening to the Deputy one would consider that they should be sick all the time. A little while ago Deputy McQuillan commented on the fact that the farming community are being looked at by the non-farming community and that there is antipathy being built up there.

By the Government.

If there is antipathy being built up and if there is this feeling of feebleness, as would be indicated by Deputy McQuillan, it is brought about—a point which struck me very forcibly—by people like Deputy McQuillan who talked in terms of these farmers getting nothing, that they should get more, that, in fact, they are down and out. If people are told for long enough that they are down and out they will come to believe it themselves.

Did not the inter-Departmental committee that was set up say that these people were in desperate straits and have not the Government accepted that report?

The Deputy made the charge that there was not one proposal out of that report given effect to in this House as yet.

Will the Deputy consider that this report and its implications have not been so long available and will the Deputy and other Deputies who talked about the application of rate relief as being an incentive to laziness on the part of the large farmers take it to heart that this is not the only help and the only assistance being given to the farmers; that there are, side by side with rate reliefs, the other incentives to production which have been introduced by this Party and this Government by way of artificial manures, subsidies on potash and superphosphates, and that, in fact, so far as Fianna Fáil are concerned, it was back in 1934 that Fianna Fáil first introduced reliefs of rates for the small farmers, at that time the under £10 valuation group? There was nobody before that to do so, nor has there been anybody who has advanced it any degree since, other than Fianna Fáil, on behalf of the small farmers.

And the result is that the small farmers are leaving the country today. That is a result of that policy.

The result is that there is a terrible lot of nonsense talked by people like the Deputy about what is being done on the land and what should be done on the land. The question might be asked, just what do these people know as to what should or could be done on any of our land? It is all very well to make a song and dance about what our small farmers do or do not do. It is all very well to make the case here for further reliefs for these small farmers but when we consider the facts in regard to rate reliefs and realise that the small farmers, out of the total of £8.6 million, will this year get almost £6 million, surely the charge that we are doing nothing for the small farmers in this measure is completely unfounded? Surely, it will be appreciated that £6 million of this £8.6 million is a fair slice going to the small farmers of the amount of relief and that by and large their rates are a fairly small proportion of their overheads and their outlay of today?

I have heard Deputies who talked here today being mentioned as being in the forefront of some of the protest marches that were held down the country. Those same people would now say that the larger farmers should not get any relief. Is it not a fact that to a large degree it is the large farmers who have been seeking the relief; that it is the large farmers who have something to be relieved of; and that there is so little of our average rate left to be paid by the under £20 valuation group at the moment that the amount of relief that could be given, even if they were totally and completely derated, might not amount, bringing it down to a matter of so much per week, as Deputy Murphy did, to more than a matter of shillings per week per head?

We cannot have it both ways. You cannot argue that the relief given to the £5 valuation man amounts to only a shilling a week and at the same time suggest that we are giving too much to the larger farmers and then make the further argument that the total relief being given to all farmers is not enough. The figures are there and the House should be pretty well satisfied that the amount of rate relief now being given is substantial and undoubtedly must be of very great importance to the agricultural industry as a whole. It must be of sizeable importance to their overall economy, their overheads and their costs. Coming to the case quoted by Deputy Corish of £400 relief coming to a farmer——

May I interrupt the Minister at this stage? I admit I made a mistake. I should have said £4 a week and not £400 a year.

Even £400. Was this additional or total relief?


Of course they will not vote against this increase for the farmers.

Deputy Burke loves doing that for the sake of destroying a peaceful atmosphere.


At any rate on the corrected figure given by Deputy Corish, lest it might mislead and these isolated cases do, that would be approximately £200 for the year of an increased relief. If we take that as probably applying to the new relief of 25 per cent. on the over £20 valuation, the probability is that the total gross demand would be somewhere in the region of £400 in respect of that particular farmer. If we take the average rate as being something over £2 in the £, it would give a valuation of £200 to that farmer. The number of such farmers in the country is very small.

The number of such farmers in County Meath is very big.

So far as I am concerned while I like to see rate reliefs as much as anybody else and indeed, as Minister for Local Government, more so, I feel it is a grand thing to have land on which rates are leviable. That is my personal opinion. That does not diminish as the amount of land decreases, in fact the less land one has the more one thinks of it. The suggestion is that other ways and means could be found to spread over this relief and give greater relief where it is needed. As I said supporting the rates protests were some members of this House and leading the parades were some of the large farmers. The very same people would now say the large farmer is getting too much and the small farmer getting too little. I do not see how we can have it both ways. If we are to reduce the overheads, which is the primary purpose of this measure, reduce the costs of production, surely it follows that that assistance and aid should be given to all farmers and not just to any one particular section and that is what we are doing.

That is where we differ from you.

You may differ from me, but, on the other hand, no concrete proposals emanate from you that could with merit be applied after examination.

A graded system of relief in accordance with the valuation. Give more to the man with the small valuation.

That is what we are doing. What we should remember is all rate demands on land the valuation of which is £20 or under is for 30 per cent. of the rates levied. Instead of talking about an increase only of 10 per cent. in relief, we should take into account what they are being asked for is 30 per cent. of the rates normally falling to be paid. If we look at it in that way, we surely will agree that a 70 per cent. relief against 30 per cent. payment is a very substantial part of this cost of paying rates on these lands of under £20.

The Minister will agree that the relief to the small farmer is small?

Then again the amount of rates payable per small farmer is small. You cannot abate in a small way the amount levied——

Why select in that way?

This relief was started in 1934 by Fianna Fáil for the farmer with a valuation of under £10. There were various Acts and amendments over the years and it has now reached the stage of £60——

It has become a bit of a monster.

When we relate it to the actual total rates demanded, we see the relief is in fact far greater than the amount that is now being sought.

But rate relief is not the ideal.

The Deputy had six years to do something about it and did not do very much.

You are doing things in 1962 that we could say you should have done in 1932.


Perhaps the House would listen to the Minister.

Deputy Sweetman mentioned the question of employment allowances as did the Deputy from Cork——

Deputy O'Sullivan.

——and said that the employment allowance based on the 11 or 12 months continuous employment is something that should be loosened up. The fact is that a month is allowed, but again it is at the discretion of the local authority in question and it is allowed by quite a number of them. There may be some who do not allow it. Where the month is allowed, that is as far as it is possible to go and to go any further would defeat the objective.

Even two months in the year will not be counted.

I do not think we can allow the two months because basically the idea is to try to close the gap in the slack period of the winter or spring. It differs in different parts of the country, but if there is work for 10 or 11 months, there should be work provided for the 11 months and this employment incentive has been set. If we widened the gap, we would discourage the continuous employment and therefore defeat the idea behind this relief. The obvious thing to do then would be to wipe it out and have no relief, or possibly give it to Deputy Tully to distribute. That is the position and there is not much we can do about it.

The position of the rate collectors has been referred to. The position is that the reduction in the collectable amount does affect those people on the poundage payment system. Their claim has already been discussed with some of their representatives and I am not in a position to make any comment on what may arise from those discussions and I do not intend to make any such comment.

Was the discussion with the Minister or his Department?

It was not with me personally. Apparently the Departmental heads have discussed the matter with their representatives.

Can the Minister say whether any money will be available from this relief to compensate them for any losses that may arise from a reduction in the amount of their warrants?

This is rates relief. This is to abate the rates being paid by the ratepayers and surely to stretch it to compensate rate collectors would be stretching it too far.

But surely you realise that the good you are doing in some cases will hit the rate collectors?

Yes, but certainly the Deputy will also have adverted to the fact that the rates have been rising and continue to rise.

I never objected very much to an increase in the rates.

The poundage collector will benefit from that. Nobody can stop him getting extra poundage on the increase in rates. It seems to me that, on the one hand, he is getting more by the rising rates and is being depreciated as a result of rates relief. The big question is whether he can have it both ways. We would all like to have it both ways but all we can do is to await the outcome of these discussions.

The more good the Minister does for the farmers, the worse it is for the rate collectors.

Many of our rate collectors are no longer on the poundage payment system. When the rates are abated and the total amount payable by the farmers goes down, that means that there is so much less work for the rate collectors and it is so much less difficult to get in the rates. That is a considerable advantage to the rate collector. He is surely in a better position if he can get the money in more easily than if he has a large amount on his warrant and is not able to get it in.

Surely the Minister is wrong in saying that many rate collectors are on a salary basis?

The number is considerable and is rising. This is a rates relief measure on a somewhat similar pattern to that which we have come to accept for a number of years. There may be faults or flaws in it. I do not disagree with that, but I totally disagree with the statement that the present application of these grants is wrong. I totally disagree with the assertion that the small farmer is getting nothing from this and that the large farmer does not need it. This is a sum of £8.6 millions going to the farming community and the industry as a whole. It will abate their costs of production to that extent and, far from its being the wrong thing to do with our possible advent to the Common Market, I think it is a step in the right direction that the costs of production of our agricultural industry should be reduced in every possible way.

I feel that the criticisms levelled at this measure are possibly made as criticisms only and are not meant in any very serious way. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Can we have the remaining Stages now?

We had better leave it over until next Tuesday.

There is nothing in it.

There is a point about the employment allowance that might be raised.

We have no objection.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 17th July, 1962.