Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Bill, 1972: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

'Sé príomh-chuspóir an Bhille ghearr seo ná sraith na n-Achtanna a bhaineann leis an faoiseamh ó rátaí a chuirann an Deontas Talmhaíochta ar fáil a choimeád beo. Íochtar an deontas seo ón Státchiste i dtreo 'so go mbíonn na h-údaráis aitiúla i ndan faoiseamh a thabhairt ó rátaí ar thalamh talmhaíochta. So bhliain seo, 1972-73, íocfar suim thart ar £28 milliún dosna na h-údaráis áitiúla le h-aghaidh an faoiseamh seo a chur ar fáil. Baineann an Bille atá againn anois leis an tréimhse cúig-bliana ó an lú Aibreán, 1970, go dtí an 31 ú Márta, 1975.

Section 2 of the Bill provides for the continued payment of the agricultural grant for the five-year period covered by the Bill, thereby providing for the continuation of the existing primary, supplementary and employment allowances. The primary allowance relieves 100 per cent of the general rate on land holdings the valuation of which does not exceed £20; this allowance effectively derates 77 per cent of all rated holdings of agricultural land. In the case of holdings between £20 and £33 valuation the primary allowance relieves 100 per cent of the rates on the first £20 of the land valuation and the rated occupier is liable for rates on the remainder only. Land holdings with valuations in excess of £33 qualify for a primary allowance of 80 per cent in respect of £20 valuation and a supplementary allowance of 30 per cent on the remainder. The employment allowance is available, in appropriate cases, towards the relief of the net rates payable after deduction of the primary and supplementary allowances on holdings with land valuations over £20.

Section 3 of the Bill contains an adjustment of the conditions relating to the grant of the employment allowance. The purpose of this section is to give legislative effect to the change in the employment allowance which was announced by the Minister for Finance in the 1968 Budget. Up to 1st April, 1968, when the provision came into effect, the employment allowance was not available in respect of a workman who himself was the rated occupier of land with a valuation of £5 or more. The 1968 budget raised this valuation limit from £5 to £15.

The agricultural grant affords relief from the general rate in the £. Following on the raising of the primary allowance to 100 per cent in respect of holdings with valuation under £20, provision was made in section 8 of the Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Act, 1967, to enable local authorities to waive the levying and collection of separate charges on such holdings where the amounts would be so small that collection would normally be uneconomic. The provision in the 1967 Act was however related solely to the grounds on which such charges generally arise, that is, in respect of compensation for malicious injuries. It has since come to notice that these small separate charges can arise also in respect of other matters. Section 4 of the Bill provides for the extension of the powers of local authorities to waive these small charges, which it would be uneconomic to collect, irrespective of the grounds on which the expenses arose.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I am standing in for our spokesman on local government who is absent unavoidably. I wish to say a few brief words on the Bill which is a fairly straightforward measure with not very much in it. However, in order to ascertain what the Bill is all about one must go to the Library and look up six or eight different Acts. In introducing a Bill of this sort there should not be reference to several different Acts of Parliament without giving some explanatory memorandum that would obviate the need for all this research into the particular Acts.

Hear, hear.

Another aspect of the Bill which I find difficult to understand is that of legislating for a specific number of years. Why can we not enact legislation that goes on indefinitely until we bring in some other legislation either to discontinue the allowances granted or to bring in something to amend it? I hope the Minister will explain why this procedure is necessary. Looking back through the Acts I find that this has been done repeatedly during the years. Initially a period of eight years was fixed. This was increased later to 11 years. Then we fixed a period of 13 years which, subsequently, was increased to 16 years and this is being increased now to 21 years. I notice that the legislation has to be retrospective in order to cover an overlapping period that had expired since the last specified period had ended. Therefore we are legislating now in retrospect to 1969, so far as I can see. I wonder whether the Minister can explain why he did not bring the Bill before the House prior to the ending of the period in 1969? Perhaps he might tell us too, why the legislation cannot be made permanent at least until such time as amending legislation is brought in.

The first paragraph of the Minister's brief was in Irish but as my knowledge of that language is limited I did not understand what he was saying. I do not know why he should have begun his speech in Irish and then continued it in English.

I usually do that.

A cháirde Ghael——

Section 1 deals with the employment allowance. Can I take in that this is the allowance that was brought in under the 1946 Act? That allowance was originally £6 10s. but has been increased since to £17. Is section 1 proposing to continue that allowance for a further specific number of years, that is, to 1975? If it is, I am surprised that the Minister has not availed of the opportunity provided by the introduction of legislation of this kind to increase this allowance to a realistic figure.

The Minister must be aware that there has been endless agitation and discussion all over the country in county councils, in the General Council of County Councils, in committees of agriculture and in the General Council of Committees of Agriculture and resolutions have been passed going back many years asking successive Ministers for Local Government to come up with a realistic figure. It is certainly many years since the £17 figure was arrived at and if at that time it was regarded as a figure that might induce a farmer to employ an extra man it certainly would not do so now. It is altogether unrealistic as an inducement.

The Bill proposes to make what I consider is a wise adjustment and that is to allow a man with a £15 valuation to qualify for this relief when he works for a farmer. In other words, the farmer is not debarred from getting relief if he employs a farmer with a valuation up to £15. Probably this should have been done long ago. Even £15 is a very small valuation. I think the Minister will agree that it would be impossible for a farmer on a £15 valuation to get an income from his holding sufficient to keep him and that he must supplement it outside. When an adjustment was being made I cannot understand why the £15 was chosen since we should be trying to give uneconomic holders of this valuation and indeed of much higher valuations an opportunity of being employed with an adjoining farmer, perhaps, with sufficient land to give the employment without the latter being deprived of the meagre allowance of £17.

Perhaps the Minister would explain why he did not bring up the figure to £25 or £30 valuation. Certainly, in my constituency land is valued at about £3 an acre and in some cases more, so that a £30 valuation would represent ten acres of land and unless a man had ten acres under glass or something like that he could not possibly get a reasonable livelihood. But because he has this valuation, if he works with an adjoining farmer who is able to employ him, that farmer is deprived of the £17 allowance. I cannot understand why, when introducing the legislation, the Minister did not raise the valuation —not to £15 but—to £30 and why he did not raise the £17 figure to at least £50 or £60 or, say, £1 a week. I cannot see that the present figure of £17 has any effect on employment.

Section 2 deals with the extension in various steps of the period to which I have referred and also gives the legislation retrospective effect. Is the Minister satisfied that he should not eliminate the need for bringing this legislation to the House periodically? I have no legal training and I do not know what may prevent this but if there is nothing to prevent it why does the Minister continue the practice that has been carried on so long and which is so difficult to understand. In section 4 the waiver of rates with certain changes in conditions is dealt with and there is very little else in the Bill about which one could speak. The one improvement in it is that the valuation at which a man will qualify has been increased from £5 to £15. One wonders why the legislation is necessary when we were making such little improvement in the existing situation.

I also wonder why it is not possible to have the Bill cover an indefinite period rather than a five-year period. Like Deputy Clinton, I live in a highly-rated area. For various reasons the valuation of land in Meath is the highest in Ireland. I know of land which runs across the border into neighbouring counties and the land in Meath is valued at £2 to £3 per acre while the land in the other counties is valued as low as 50p per acre for the same field. Surely there is no sense in that. This means that a Meath farmer with a very small acreage is ruled out.

While I agree entirely that it would be a good idea to increase the valuation which would be derated, I have mixed feelings about the large farmer being allowed off rates. It is rather ridiculous that farmers with sizeable valuations should not have to pay the full rates on their lands while the house-owner or owner of a small business or something like that has to pay the full rates. When it comes to the man of wealth I think there is a point where this remission should not continue. There should be an adjustment of the whole rating system which would include people who are unable to pay high rates and if this were carried out it would almost certainly remove rates remission in the case of people who have so much money that they do not know what to do with it and who have other people paying portion of their rates for them.

Like Deputy Clinton, I feel the £17 employment allowance is a bit of a joke, but for a different reason. I believe there is no point in paying £17, that it is a complete waste of money and that nobody at present employs a man because he is allowed £17 off his rates. Nobody employing a man would say:"We shall knock him off because we do not get unemployment allowance for him." This matter should be looked into. Possibly the Minister could say how much money is involved in it. If an incentive towards employment is to be given it must be given in a different way. Giving somebody £17 on condition that they keep a man in full time employment over a whole year is ridiculous. If the Minister wants to save whatever small amount of money is involved he could do so and nobody would cry salt tears if they lost this £17. All of them say they want a larger allowance and we assume the amount they are getting has no influence at all. I agree with that view.

I have always wondered why the allowance did not apply to both male and female. There are people employing full-time women land-workers who apparently do not qualify for the allowance. Even when the allowance was considered worth something the conditions under which it was given were rather stringent. I knew of people who had one man employed for a period. He left and somebody else replaced him after a few weeks. He found it extremely difficult to qualify for the allowance. The Minister might forget about the £17 altogether.

I know this is not the place to talk about it, but perhaps the Minister might comment in his reply as to when is he going to do something about malicious injuries? He said here that the provision in the 1967 Act was related solely to the grounds on which such charges generally arise, that is, in respect of compensation for malicious injuries. We are now living in the era of the vandal. There is only one or two local authorities in the country that have not had sizeable malicious injuries claims made for damage done by vandals. The tendency appears to be that, if people do this sort of damage, it is just as well not to bother with them, to go after the county council and in that way go after the ratepayers and make them pay. It is the old style of collective punishment. The time is long past when this system should have been done away with. I am not blaming the Minister. This was handed on to him, but if he makes his name as Minister for Local Government for nothing else, changing this would allow him leave a mark in the Department which possibly he might not otherwise have an opportunity of leaving.

I wonder, Deputy, does this arise on rates on agricultural land?

It is a matter for the Minister for Justice.

Far be it for me to pursue it but I am just referring to it because the Minister himself, unwisely, used the magic words "malicious injuries". If he did not, I would not have an opportunity of referring to them. It may be a matter for the Minister for Justice but——

To do something about it.

——the person who is responsible for rates is the Minister for Local Government and the General Council of County Councils have again and again asked him to do something about this. Would the Minister try to do it?

Bearing in mind what you said, Sir, I think it is relevant to this debate that we should be considering the burden on people who pay rates on agricultural land arising out of malicious injuries. What is particularly relevant is the fact that that legislation was originally introduced in what might be called an immobile age when malicious damage was likely to be done by people within their own area or certainly within an area that was reached on horseback. It was a measure which was intended to punish a community for tolerating or permitting crime, misdemeanour or felony within their own particular area.

The pattern of recent malicious injuries, particularly in the constituency which Deputy Tully has the honour to represent in this House—and most ably he does it—has been of a nature that it is committed by people who have come from a long distance away and certainly far beyond the parish or the bailiwick that is punished by the particular legislation. It is in that sphere that we must very properly consider substantially amending the whole malicious injury code. I do not go as far as Deputy Tully—perhaps he did not go this far—but I do not go as far as some people do in suggesting that the whole concept of malicious injury compensation being borne by the public should be done away with. It is, over all a relatively a cheap form of social insurance——

A person who pays somebody else's compensation does not think so.

——and indeed were it not on the Statute Book I would expect a party with a strong social conscience to favour it being undertaken as a social obligation. What needs to be done is to make it a national obligation so that when malicious injury is done it is spread over the whole of the community and that particular areas, particularly those of relative poverty, are not called upon to pay immense compensation in respect of damage that is done in their midst by people who come from a long distance outside.

What I think is particularly inequitable is that where malicious damage is done, as it is sometimes done, by people from an urban area it is the people in the rural area who have to pay the damage. That clearly is wrong. It is, therefore, right for this House to be making a generous contribution towards the relief of rates on agricultural land. I represent a constituency which I do not believe has as much as a half acre of agricultural land within it but I am concerned with the social issue involved.

I should like to refer to agricultural land near towns where the boundary has been extended. Any farmer who has land adjacent to a town when the boundary is extended cannot avail of this relief if his ground has been brought within the urban area. I would ask the Minister to consider this as a matter of urgency. I know of many of these cases. I met many people in Carlow, where the boundary was recently extended with 20 and 30 acres of land. Since the town boundary has been extended they get no relief on agricultural land and have to pay the full rate, whereas a half mile from the town their neighbours can avail of 100 per cent relief in respect of the first £20 valuation and the other benefits that are available for valuations in excess of £20. I would ask the Minister to consider where people are inside an urban boundary and engaged full-time in farming, giving them the same concessions as if they were in the county council area.

I should like to ask the Minister whether he has considered the problem in relation to group farming. If a number of farmers come together and pool their land, thereby bringing their valuation above £20, they will lose the exemption which at present operates and if their valuation goes above £33 they will lose the somewhat attenuated exemption which is given to farmers with a valuation between £20 and £33. I know there are probably ways of getting round this requirement but I would ask the Minister to consider in the context of the rating system the need to place no obstacles in the way of the development of group farming. I hope the operation of this exemption would not be such as to have that effect.

I also consider that it would be desirable in the case of farmers who form a group and, from being independent proprietors, become employees of a group farm co-operative enterprise, that the employment allowance in respect of such people should be very substantially increased because group farming is something we should be encouraging and this is a way in which we can encourage it. It is worth drawing the attention of the House to the fact that the cost of the employment allowance to the Government is one of the few items of expenditure which has been going down. This is the allowance which is given on the rates in respect of any worker employed on the land.

Pro rata with the employment of agricultural workers.

Yes. In 1957-58 this cost the Exchequer £1,272,429 and in 1971-72 it cost the Exchequer £728,248. In view of the fall in the expenditure, in view of the fall in the cost of the allowance, there is obviously room for increasing the rate of the allowance. I feel the increase should be given in a selective way with a view to encouraging certain types of intensive form enterprise which have a high employment content. This money which has been saved over the years could be spent in giving a very substantial increase in the employment allowance to anybody who pools their land to become employed in a co-operative farm venture. I hope the Minister will consider that suggestion very carefully in view of the fact that the Department of Agriculture are endeavouring at the moment to encourage group farming.

I would like to refer to a matter which was mentioned I believe by Deputy Tully, that is the question of malicious injuries. I do not agree that the malicious injuries code should be abolished and that the cost should be borne solely by the insurance companies. In relation to this proposal one must ask if this happens who will in fact pay. Obviously the people who would have to pay would be the people paying the insurance premiums. The result is that, if somebody was unpopular locally or for one reason or another it was considered that his property was a bad malicious damage risk, his insurance premium could go up. People living in rural areas where their property would not be so easily protected would find that their insurance premium in respect of malicious injuries would go up because there would no longer be the present provision whereby the cost of malicious injuries is borne by the ratepayers.

I do not think it desirable to remove the payment in respect of malicious injuries from the community. It is a desirable thing but I find it most inequitable that it should be borne by the local authorities. I am sure Deputy Tully and Deputy Ryan have stated that with increased transport and so forth the people who commit malicious injuries are to a decreasing extent natives of the county in which the malicious injuries are committed. This is particularly applicable in the case of illegal organisations. It should also be borne in mind that the responsibility for preventing malicious injuries rests with the Garda, which is a national body. There might be some case to be made if it was the responsibility of a local county police force but the fact is that local authorities can do nothing about preventing malicious injuries. It seems to me to be unfair that local authorities should have to pay the bill if the Garda are unable to prevent malicious injuries from taking place. I believe that while the community responsible for malicious injuries should not be abolished, because it would lead to an intolerable increase in insurance premiums for certain people living in exposed places or for people whose property was at risk, it should be made a national charge. I commend this proposal to the Minister and I hope he will consider it carefully.

I find the process whereby this legislation is introduced rather curious. We had rates on Agricultural Land Bills here almost every two or three years and their effect has been to a great degree merely to renew existing statutes and bring them forward for another few years. The Government complain that they have difficulty getting legislation through the House and that there are log jams and delays. They should consider the extent to which they are creating these log jams themselves by introducing unnecessary legislation which could be avoided if, instead of introducing legislation which must be introduced every few years, they introduced a concession which could be annulled but which would continue in existence until it was annulled and would not have to be renewed. This would lead to a situation where Bills such as the one we have today would not have to be introduced. The Government have failed by two years to introduce the necessary legislation and they have now to bring in legislation to authorise county councils to do something which they have been doing for the last two years in anticipation of this Bill. This is very undesirable procedure: that it is necessary to indemnify local authorities for doing something which was technically illegal because the Government failed to get a piece of legislation through.

I would like to know if the Minister could give some information on the other forms of incidental expenses which are referred to in section 4. He mentioned in his speech that there were some others in addition to criminal injuries which were discovered. It would be a help if he could tell the House what they are. It would be desirable in regard to section 10 if, instead of all those Acts being cited together, the Minister could introduce to the House at some convenient date a comprehensive Bill which would bring the whole lot up to date instead of having people having to refer to a multitude of Acts if they want to find the legal position in regard to rates. It would be a great help if all the legislation could be brought up to date in one Act. In view of the heavy legislative programme which is in front of us I can see this would not be a very high priority, but is something which should be considered.

I welcome the Bill for what is in it but I do not believe it goes far enough. I am old enough to remember Fianna Fáil promises in the past when rates were between 5s and 6s in the £. Now they are 20 to 30 times what they were then. They are from £6 to £8 in the £. I also remember their shedding crocodile tears during the by-election in Laois-Offaly in 1956 when the rates were from 20s to 30s in the £. My criticism of Fianna Fáil politicians and of the present Minister for Local Government is that they are so lavish with their promises on the election platforms but are so niggardly when in office. We know their promises in 1965, when they were to stabilise the health grant, but the moment they got back into office we heard nothing about it. We all know that rates are increasing and they are putting a heavy burden on many people.

At one time we were all concerned about one penny increase in the £, then it became shillings and now it becomes an extra pound increase every year. We are entitled to ask the Minister when this will stop. The Minister in his speech today stated:

Up to 1st April, 1968, when the provision came into effect, the employment allowance was not available in respect of a workman who himself was the rated occupier of land with a valuation of £5 or more.

We have advocated that for years and as far as that is concerned it is a small step forward, but I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies.

As regards the employment allowance, if my memory serves me right I think the £17 is there since 1963 or 1964. It is completely useless now. I agree with Deputy Tully that no farmer employs a man for the £17 allowance. There are 10,000 leaving the land of Ireland every year and if that allowance could be increased to £60, or even £52, as Deputy Clinton suggested, it might be an incentive. The aim of the Minister for Local Government and of everybody in this House should be to try to stop the drift from the land, to give more employment to our own people working on the land. If he considered making the allowance £52 a year it might be an incentive and it might help to keep more people working on the land.

I should like to refer to the man who works 11 months a year on the land, then falls ill or is absent for another month or two. I have been informed that in some counties if a man is out for three or four weeks it is hard to get the allowance. I was in the Dáil when the Bill was going through and the Minister informed us that, even if a man worked for 11 months of the year, the allowance would be paid. I have been informed that, especially in Dublin, if a man is out for a fortnight or a month they are not inclined to give the allowance.

I entirely agree with the point raised by Deputy Nolan in regard to the relief for land inside the urban boundary. If a town is being enlarged and takes in land outside the boundary and if the farmer is dependent on that land for his livelihood, he will not get the allowance. This is unfair. This point should be examined.

I agree with Deputy Bruton that malicious injuries should be a national charge and not a county charge. At present when there are anarchists and subversives throughout the country there is danger that what has happened in the North could happen here. If a particular town was bombed, the county council would not be able to pay for the damage. The sooner this point is examined the better.

Rates on agricultural land are an outdated mode of taxation. In the past there was much discussion when this Bill was introduced. With the increases in rates now we cannot have as much to say about the concessions to farmers. Only a very small farm now has a valuation of £10 to £15. With rates so high now, many small farmers are paying £80 to £125 on a farmhouse and outoffices. We do not have so much to say about the great asset of the rates abatement now as we had in the past.

It is probably not in order now to deal with the committee which was set up to deal with the rates question. The sooner we have an answer to the rates problem the better.

To return again to the allowance, the position is unfair and unjust. Unless the Minister gets the recommendations of the committee soon he should do something about this point. Small farms of less than £20 valuation are completely derated. In the majority of cases a man in such a farm works with the ESB, Bord na Móna or, perhaps a garage in the local town. In 99 cases out of 100 a man from such a farm is working and earning a reasonable wage. He has no rates to pay on his land. The case of a man with a valuation of £33.1 is somewhat different. He may have a wife and ten children and he must try to stay at home and work the farm. Very little allowance is made for him. There should be some kind of children's allowance for such a man. The most hard-pressed man at the present time is a farmer with a young family. The Minister should consider the whole question. The allowance should not be given to every man with £20 valuation because such a man may be better off than the farmer with £33 valuation and a wife and ten children. The question of a children's allowance should be carefully considered in order to give relief to the people whom I believe are most deserving.

There was a request on the part of Deputy Clinton for an explanatory memorandum. There was a hint that an explanatory memorandum should have been circulated with the Bill so that the Deputies would have known of the intentions of the Bill. I take the point but I would point out to Deputy Clinton and the House that, this being a continuing Bill, it has not been the practice to publish an explanatory memorandum in such a case. This is a point which I will keep in mind.

It is not easy for Deputies to know it is a continuing Bill.

I agree. I will keep the point in mind for future Bills.

It is a pity there was no explanatory memorandum this time.

The other point raised was: why have continuing Bills and why not have permanent legislation? The only answer I can give to that is that, in continuing the allowances and benefits which are available to farmers and the owners of agricultural land under these Bills, the Government decide on a certain figure as the allowance and that figure applies for a certain period and can be reviewed at the end of such period. There is an opportunity to consider the position and to look at the allowances with a view to possible improvements. If one goes back to the series of Bills that have been passed, one will notice that the opportunity to introduce legislation to continue the benefits has been availed of to improve the allowances. On this occasion we are validating the increase in the valuation limits for employees of farmers from £5 to £15 and they will qualify for the employment allowance from now on. This is being validated here now, having been passed in a previous budget. It is not really relevant whether it is a continuing Bill or whether permanent legislation should be introduced. It would be practical to have permanent legislation, but this would not allow for any improvements and one would still be faced with the eventuality of having to bring in new legislation to improve the situation. One way or the other, there would be this kind of discussion in the House.

I would like to point out to Deputy Clinton that on both occasions when there were coalition Governments in the House they availed of these continuing Bills but they did not avail of the opportunity to make any improvements in the situation in those years.

Could the Minister say why this legislation was not introduced in 1969 when it was due?

There was not any great urgency about introducing the Bill. The Deputy knows that the introducing of a Bill takes some time. Quite a lot of important Bills have been dealt with up to now. The monevs have already been voted by the Dáil.

There were other things to be dealt with in 1969.

I am faced with the interesting conflict between the Fine Gael suggestion that the employment allowance of £17 should be increased and the Labour Party suggestion that it should be abolished. In view of the conflicting opinions offered by both parties, I have decided to stay in the middle and to continue to make this allowance.

The Minister has decided to do nothing.

This might be deemed the first crack in the pending marriage of the two parties. There is also the question of the £15 valuation limit for employees of farmers. This has been validated here. It has been suggested by some Deputies that the £15 should be raised to £25 or £30. The £15 is quite a generous adjustment as compared with the previous limit of £5. The suggestion to increase it beyond that is not very appropriate. The £15 should be let stand for a period until we see how it operates. The fact is that the level of £17 was originally intended to act as a stimulus to farmers to employ agricultural workers or to keep them in employment. The validity of that is very much in doubt now. Having said that I intend to continue it in operation, I will leave it at that.

I would be inclined to lean towards Deputy Tully's arguments in that field. I should like to assure Deputy Bruton that in relation to group farming I did consider this and I do not envisage that it will cause any difficulty; it can be dealt with administratively to ensure that where farmers form a group they will not, because of the combined valuations, be debarred from remissions. I want to assure the House I shall deal with that administratively, but in the event of an amendment to the law becoming necessary I am fully prepared to include a proposal for such an amendment in any future legislation.

The question of urban land, which was raised by Deputy Nolan, is an old chestnut. It is one with which one could have some sympathy just taking a look at it on the surface. However, although it may be a worthy suggestion I cannot see my way to granting it at this stage. The basic purpose of the Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Acts is to ease the burden of rates on people who occupy agricultural land and use it for agricultural purposes. The amount of agricultural land used for agricultural purposes in urban areas is insufficient to justify any amendment to these Acts. The total land valuation of the country is approximately £7 million and of that only £105,000 is in urban areas, that is, including the boroughs.

Surely one case of serious injustice should suffice to have the land included?

If the Deputy would let me finish, the urban land comprises, in addition to some agricultural holdings, undeveloped building sites, parks, playing fields, golf courses, tennis courts, churches, schools, factories and so on. Further allowances on the lines of those for land in counties would undoubtedly give rise to constant disputes as to whether or not particular property should qualify for rates relief on the grounds of agricultural use. The farmer in the urban areas benefits from the services that are made available by the urban authorities, and it is only reasonable that he should make a fair contribution towards the cost of these services.

He is paying through the nose.

He has the advantage over the farmer in the rural districts that he is nearer to the markets. Further, he has no claim to rate relief on the same basis as the general body of farmers in the county health districts whose complaint is that they are asked to contribute to the cost of services from which they derive very little benefit. Of course, as the House well knows, land in urban areas has a greatly enhanced value as potential building sites due mainly to the operation of the local authorities, and the valuations of such land cannot be increased. In this way the occupier does receive what may be regarded as a free gift from the occupiers of hereditaments other than agricultural land in the area.

Could I ask the Minister if it will be possible at least to grant the present exemption for a limited period after the boundary extension, because it may be reasonably assumed that the benefits to which he refers will not come into operation immediately the boundary is extended and possibly for 15 years or so the present concession would continue.

I am not prepared to consider that.

Why not?

From my own experience, where a legitimate argument can be made to grant some relief to farmers who have some land in agricultural areas one has only to let time pass to see how well these farmers are benefiting from the investment the community in that urban area has made in the provision of facilities. I think it is unfair in regard to those who own land in those areas which has great potential and which has great value and the value of which has been increasing——

Not as agricultural land.

——at far too high a rate, as the House would agree. However, because of the benefit to them and the free gift the community is bestowing on them, I think it is fair and just to expect them to pay their share through rates of the cost of the provision of these services.

They are paying out £1,500 an acre in the Dublin region.

The question of malicious injuries has been mentioned. I did refer to it because I had to explain, as I did in my introductory speech, that charges can fall on local authorities other than those arising out of malicious injuries claims. The type of example I have of that is where there is a joint burial board, as there is in County Wicklow and in Dundalk, County Louth, but the charges are so small that it would not amount to very much anyway, but I am just validating it in this section of the Bill.

Would the Minister make a comment on malicious injuries?

The malicious injuries code is a matter for the Minister for Justice. He has indicated already that this whole question is under review, and we shall have to await the outcome of that review. I have a certain sympathy with many of the points which have been made by Deputies, but I am not in a position at the moment to indicate what changes, if any, will be made, and, strictly speaking, it is a matter for the Minister for Justice.

Question put and agreed to.

I would be inclined to give the next Stage now except that I disagree with the Minister in the permanency of the legislation, and I thought it might be worth trying to amend that aspect of it.

The Deputy is not serious?

I am serious. It sounds to me quite ridiculous.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.