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.