Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 31 Jul 1962

Vol. 55 No. 13

Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Bill, 1962—Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Government's proposals for granting increased rate relief to farmers were announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget statement last April. The purpose of the present Bill which will apply to the three financial years ending on the 31st March, 1965, is to give legislative effect to these proposals. The Bill proposes:

(a) to 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,

(b) to grant a supplementary allowance of 25 per cent. of the general rate on land valuations over £20,

(c) to reduce the minimum qualifying age for the employment allowance from 17 to 16 years, and

(d) that the total grant be paid from voted moneys instead of partly from the Central Fund and partly from voted moneys as at present.

The net effect of these proposals will be the payment of Agricultural Grant totalling approximately £8.6 million in the current year. This will afford farmers relief to the extent of 57 per cent. of the gross rates leviable on agricultural land, as against the relief of 42 per cent. given last year.

Legislation dealing with the relief of rates on agricultural land was initiated by the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898. Under that Act, the grant was a fixed annual subvention and gave a flat rate of relief on all agricultural land in county health districts. The total amount of the grant and its method of distribution were altered on several occasions, but until the year 1946 the total of the grant was always a fixed amount.

Under the Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Act, 1946, the total amount of the grant, instead of being fixed in advance as heretofore, became related to the actual rate struck by county councils in a particular year. That Act provided that the grant should 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 valuations 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 proceeding calendar year.

This method of distribution operated until the passing of an amending Act in 1953 which abolished the suplementary allowance, increased the employment allowance to £17, but left the primary allowance unchanged. The grant was continued on this basis up to and including the last financial year.

The total amount of the grant has increased from £599,011 in 1898 to £2.91 million in 1946/47, to £5.84 million in 1961/62, and it would have increased to £6.1 million in the current year if no change were made in the legislation.

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

The amendments made by the Bill will result in the payment of primary allowance totalling approximately £5.9 million in the current year. To those who might hold that the Bill is not sufficiently generous to the small farmer, I would point out that the primary allowance alone this year will exceed by a considerable sum the total of the grant paid last year. The supplementary allowance applicable to land holdings in excess of £20 valuation which is provided for in the Bill will cost an estimated £1.7 million in the current year.

The Bill also provides for the continuance of the employment allowance of £17 per workman introduced by the 1953 Act. One of the conditions attached to the grant of the allowance is, however, being eased. 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. The cost of this concession is estimated at £90,000 in the current financial year.

The remaining sections of the Bill do not call for much comment. Section 5 provides that the total of the employment allowance and the supplementary allowance in any case will not exceed the total rates payable 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. The increased allowances provided for under the Bill will have the effect of reducing the net rates payable by farmers on agricultural land in the current year to below the amounts paid by them in the year 1956/57.

Being familiar as I am with the type of farming which is carried on in Counties Cavan and Monaghan, I find it difficult, if not impossible, to work up any great enthusiasm for this Bill. In so far as it gives some relief, perhaps considerable relief, to certain types of farmer and some very small relief to others, of course it must be welcomed. It will be agreed by all—I feel sure there can be no controversy about this —that some type of relief for farmers was absolutely imperative.

Rates have been increasing by leaps and bounds over the past number of years and a point had been reached where the matter could not be allowed to go any further. However, I am afraid that the farmers about whom I speak—those of Cavan and Monaghan —are very disappointed with the amount of relief given in this Bill. I might say that while there is considerable relief given by the Bill to a very small number of farmers, there is a very miserable contribution made to the masses of the small farming community in the counties about which I speak.

There is as little as 1/- a week, or £2 12s. a year, relief for the small farmers, which means that the position this year has not been improved in any degree, because under the Budget various commodities which they have to purchase have been increased in price to an extent which will more than take away from them any small benefits they get under this Bill. However, a worse feature of the Bill is that it gives something to farmers but does very little good for the country as a whole.

The idea behind giving relief in taxation to the farming community should be to encourage production. I respectfully submit to the Minister and the House that there is no encouragement whatever for production in this Bill. The farmer who farms badly, who does not mind how he does his work, gets the same relief under this Bill as the enthusiastic hardworking farmer. The farmer who lets his land and does not work it at all, who goes off to England, gets the same encouragement under this Bill as the farmer who is proud of being a farmer, who is enthusiastic and hardworking, who wants to improve the standard of his land, who wants to hand it over to his son in a better condition than when he started to work it.

That is the worst feature of the Bill. It is not for me to say how the farmers should be encouraged to help the economy generally by producing more. The Government have at their disposal experts and technicians who should be able to work that out. The only explanation I can find for the introduction of a Bill which gives no encouragement to production is that it was introduced without any thought, that the Financial Statement giving relief from rates was made in a hurry, perhaps under pressure from the farming community. It leads me to believe that were it not for the pressure brought to bear on the Government by the various farming organisations a very short time before the Budget no relief would have been given. It is not for me to say how relief should be given to encourage production but one very good way of doing it would seem to be a calf subsidy. That scheme was advocated by the Fine Gael Party and others but it was not accepted by the Government.

This Bill also strikes me as a Bill not giving relief equally to the country as a whole. Perhaps there is a considerable amount in it for the bigger farmers of the south and midlands but there is certainly nothing in it for the small farmers. Did the Government ever think of zoning agriculture or zoning the relief given to agriculture? Did they ever think of zoning agriculture for the purpose of applying relief or subsidies for the encouragement of production? I believe the best results cannot be expected from applying the same scheme throughout the country, to the wealthy farmers of the south and midlands and to the poor farmers of the west and north-west.

So far as the Bill gives some relief it is welcome but as a contribution to the national wealth and as an effort to encourage national production, it is disappointing.

The first part of the Bill increases from 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. the rate of free allowance on land valued at up to £20. Let us take the relief that has been given for land up to £20 valuation. I say that the people who are expecting relief under this Bill on land up to £20 valuation will get none. If the Minister wanted to do something that was really beneficial to people in that category, he should have derated them completely. Some people have the impression that all farmers in Westmeath are big farmers. Perhaps I should give an idea as to the type of farms we have. We have 6,500 farms of under 50 acres; 1,200 of between 50 and 100 acres; 500 of between 100 and 200 acres and 320 of over 200 acres. Let us see what employment is given on the land in Westmeath. We have 820 farms of over 100 acres each in Westmeath and in 1956 when I became a member of Westmeath County Council I asked how many farm labourers, excluding relatives, were employed on the land there. The answer I got was 1,595. I asked the same question a few days ago in respect of 1961 and the answer was 816. I am told that if I ask the same question in a few days' time, when all the claims for rebate come in, the figure would recede into the seven hundreds. That is the case notwithstanding that we have 820 farms of over 100 acres— 500 between 100 and 200 and 320 of over 200 acres.

It is extraordinary that any Minister wishing to give relief should not first consider what he would give the small farmers. It is hard to imagine that the Minister would give relief to the man with £100 valuation—there are some with £300 and £400 valuations—and expect people who earn a salary to pay income tax. None of the farmers of Westmeath ever filled in an income tax form. They know nothing about it. A man with a £10 valuation in Westmeath gets £1 17s. 8d. relief under this Bill: a man with £20 valuation gets £3 15s. 6d. or 1/6d. a week. A man with £30 valuation gets £8 9s. 10d. relief; a man with £40 gets £13 4s. 2d.; with £60, he gets £17 18s. 6d.; with £70, £22 12s. 10d.; with £80, £27 7s. 2d.; with £90, £36 15s. 10d. and with £100 he gets £41 10s. 2d.

I shall go no further. I shall not deal with the £300 valuation and the relief that owner gets. I did not expect to have the Minister for Local Government here. I thought it would be the Minister for Agriculture, but I am delighted to see the Minister for Local Government here. If a person seeks a medical card and he has land, each £1 of his valuation is counted as £12 income. We can therefore assume that the figure has been worked out by some Government Department. Therefore, a man with £100 valuation, we must assume, has an income of £1,200. He will pay £124 12s. 1d. income tax as a single man. A single man earning £1,200 in any job will pay £257 5s. income tax. Is it not extraordinary that a man with £100 valuation and who is supposed to have £1,200 income, under the Health Act, should pay £124 12s. 1d. and have the best security in the country—land—whereas the man with £1,200 income pays £257 5s. and has no security only his health?

If I were drawing up a scheme to relieve farmers I should certainly give relief to all farmers of under £50 valuation. I could not give them enough relief. I did not come from a farm myself but all my relations did and I know their difficulties. They came from small farms such as we have in North and West Cork, 15 acres of land and 100 acres of mountain. Their valuation would not be too big and they will not go very far on the relief they will get under this Bill. To every person with land of under £100 valuation, I would say: "I shall give you £52 for the first man and £52 for the second man you employ. I will give that relief if you employ two men." In Westmeath, there are 820 farms over £100 valuation and yet there are only 816 farm workers.

There is another item in the Bill with which I totally disagree. The allowance of £17 is being given in respect of people who are 16 years of age. There is a big difficulty there and the Department of Justice may have reason to worry because of the fact that that concession has been given. At present we see young boys driving tractors and when they are under 16 years of age they are not entitled to a licence to drive a tractor. We read every day in the papers of accidents with tractors. I do not think those people should be employed on farms at all. We should have people working on farms who would be getting a decent week's wages. Boys of 16 years of age would do anything to drive a tractor. They do not care about the money. They would do it for £1 a week, or they would do it for nothing just to be allowed to drive the tractor.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Minister is not responsible for the drivers of tractors.

He is encouraging them by this Bill. He is encouraging farmers to employ boys of 16 years of age because they will get the £17 allowance. In some cases that £17 allowance would nearly cover what they would pay to the young boys. Because of that I have an objection to this Bill. Relief should be given to farmers with valuations up to £50 and after that it should be an employment allowance instead of 25 per cent. of the gross rate.

I disagree with the Senator who has just spoken and the case he has endeavoured to make. Every farmer has not got a tractor. The total number who have would be very small. I am sure the Minister and his predecessor were asked over a number of years by county committees of agriculture and public bodies up and down the country to reduce the employment allowance age limit. I want to congratulate the Minister for having got down to brass tacks and given effect to those representations. We all know that it is increasingly difficult every year to get agricultural labourers. If this is an incentive at all, it is an incentive to the farmers not to employ people of 16 years of age. If they are employed they do the same type of work as is done by people of 17 or 18 years and the employers get an allowance for them. Farmers do not employ people of 16 years of age because they are 16 years or because they are juveniles. In regard to the case made about young people driving tractors they are very isolated instances for the simple reason that the type of farmer who employs such a person has not got a tractor at all and he uses that type of employee in the ordinary farming operations.

I was hoping the Minister would clarify the employment period. I think the Minister has received more representations than any other Minister in that connection. There is real difficulty in getting farm labourers to work for the full 12 months in certain counties where the traditional period of service is 10 or 11 months. It is almost impossible to get farm hands to work the full 12 months service period in those areas. That applies particularly in the south and the west of Ireland. On a number of occasions in the Dáil I made representations to the Minister to try to scale down that allowance to cover the 10 months period which proved to be a traditional period of service. I thought they should be eligible for an allowance of ten-twelfths of the normal allowance, and in regard to the eleven months period that they should be allowed eleven-twelfths. Ten months should be the minimum because there is a basic principle behind the allowance. The Government, and every Government, naturally, want to encourage employment in agricultural operations to the best of their ability. I was hoping the Minister would clarify that point because I can tell him there are different interpretations of the regulations in that connection by the various county managers.

It has been the established practice in some counties for years past that the 11 months period is allowed. If a ratepayer goes to a little trouble to prove that the person cannot be employed for a longer period he will eventually get the allowance. In the case where an employee falls ill and the illness is somewhat indefinite, it might take the employer a week or two to start to look for another employee. He might wait for a couple of weeks. Perhaps the Department has been able to clarify the regulations with the local authorities, but there should be some uniformity so that the necessity for an appeal to the Minister would not arise.

I am slightly disappointed that agricultural land in the urban areas or the Corporation borough areas is not getting the benefit of the same relief as are the rural areas. The Minister may have a good case for that decision but the time has come when there should be a general review of that position. One thing that is particularly unfair is that the employer in the urban area is not eligible for the employment allowance for paid hands or members of the family. He is denied the employment allowance if his valuation is £20. What he gets is about two-fifths of the average allowance on the total valuation.

Where a holding is genuinely operim' aigne ná feirm ar a bhfuil an fear eacha a oibrítear agus iad sin nach ated as an agricultural holding that is unfair. I could quite understand if it were limited to small holdings of land, accommodation land, fields for cattle or cows as the case might be, but in the case where the owner is primarily or mainly dependent on the land it is unfair. In the urban areas and the Corporation boroughs there are sizeable portions of land used exclusively for agricultural purposes. The owners of those holdings are mainly dependent on them and they should qualify to get the same employment allowance as the people in the rural areas. I know at this stage it is impossible to do anything about it. I suggest to the Minister that at a later stage he may have occasion to bring in amending legislation and he should bear that in mind.

The general impact of these additional allowances has been belittled by the Opposition. It was suggested by a Senator who spoke a few moments ago that it works out at approximately 1/- a week. In fact it works out at ten per cent., whether it is 1/-, £1 or 1d. I have gone to the trouble of inquiring from farmers and various other groups and I can say that while most of them would like it to be more, generally speaking, they agree that it is a step in the right direction, and they appreciate the fact that the Government have done the best they could in the circumstances.

I welcome this Bill as a step in the right direction. It is really the first step in preparing us for the Common Market in relation to rates on agricultural land. In point of fact, in practically all the countries in the Common Market, and in England and elsewhere, there are no rates on agricultural land such as we have here. Consequently, this is just a step forward to bring our conditions into line with what will prevail in uniform competition if and when we get into the Common Market. Therefore, from that point of view, it had to be a uniform step.

In reaching that decision and in removing the rate on agricultural land to this extent the Government should avail of the use that can be made of it in the next four or five years to encourage good farming practices. I have in mind, especially, a considerable increase in the allowance for workers. I feel that—taking this as a first step—next year the Government will obviously go another step on the road up to a 50 per cent. relief.

A uniform percentage—probably 40 per cent.—would be better next year and the additional 10 per cent. might be diverted into additional incentives. The £17 allowance for agricultural workers is now completely out of date. It should be at least double that amount in order to bring it into line with values today. Apart from that, I think the trend is in the right direction.

Rates have for long been a penal tax on agriculture. They represent a tax that takes a far greater proportion of the total output than the corresponding tax levied on industry. Consequently, I welcome the Bill as a step in the right direction.

Tá ceist bheag nó dó agam le cur ar an Aire. Tá tagairt ins an mBille seo do "Agricultural land”. On méid is eol dom ar gabháltasaí ar fud na tíre tá a fhios agam go bfuil feirmeacha beaga agus feirmeacha móra agus nach bhfuil saothar talmhaí ar siúil ortha. Do chuir na húinéirí an glas ar an doras agus amach leo go Sasana nó níos fuide ó bhaile. Cuirtear an fheirm ar chíos nó ar díolaíocht éigin ins an mbaile mór í gcongar d'fhear an tí óil nó d'fhear a cheannaíonn agus a dhíolann beithigh, Ach nil aon inneal nó píce nó sluasad obair ar na feirmeacha sin.

Ní dóigh liom go raibh sé in aigne an Aire cabhair a thabhairt don tsaghas sin talmhaíochta. Sílim gurb é an rud is mó atá taobh thiar den mBille seo ná cabhair a thabhairt dos na feirmeacha beaga agus na feirmacha móra ar a bhfuil an té gur leis é in a chónai agus ag saothrú talamh na feirme.

Níl fhios agam an bhfuil aon idirdhealú déanta maidir leis na feirmnoibrítear. Tá mé ag smaoineamh ar na feirmeacha a saothraoitear agus na feirmeacha intsaothraithe. 'Séard atá gur leis é in a chónaí agus ag cur a chuid oibre i bhfeidhm ann agus ag baint an toradh as. Sin í an cheist atá im aigne: an bhfuil aon idirdhealú déanta in a thaobh sin? An bhfuil aon difríocht ins an cóiriú a dhéanfaidh an Rialtas ins na saoráidí seo idir an fear atá imithe go Sasaná agus go bhfuil a fheirm ar chíos do shiopadóir nó d'fear a cheannaíonn agus a dhíolann beithigh agus an fear atá in a chónaí ar a fheirm agus ag obair ann agus gur féidir feirm curadóireachta nó feirm talmhaíochta a ghlaoi uirthi?

This Bill is necessary, in my opinion, as there has been a very steep increase in rates since 1956. Our farmers at present will welcome anything that will mean a reduction in their outgoings.

In 1939, the total amount of rates collected in this country was £6,271,000. In 1956, that figure increased to £17,746,000. In 1961, the figure was £22,302,000. That means that there was an increase of £16 million since 1939 and an increase of £6 million since 1956.

The Minister stated that the increased allowance provided for under the Bill will have the effect of reducing the net rates payable by farmers on agricultural land in the current year to below the amounts paid by them in 1956-57. Perhaps the Minister has the figures but I cannot understand how a sum of £2½ million will bring down the rates to £17 million or does it mean that the rest of the community are paying the other £3½ million?

Last year, £22,302,000 was collected in rates. I disagree with my colleague from Westmeath, Senator McAuliffe, that a farm of £100 valuation in Westmeath would pay no income tax. I doubt if that is correct. It is certainly not that easy to evade the income tax inspector. If there are some farmers with that valuation who have got away up to this, I guarantee that they will be caught sooner or later and then they will have to pay for the past five, ten or 15 years or in respect of whatever period they may have been getting away with it.

We got figures for Westmeath two years ago and even for last year. We found that 76 per cent. of the rates in Westmeath come from the land. If the same percentage obtains throughout the rest of the country, then 75 or 76 per cent. of the £22 million collected would, roughly, represent between £16 million and £17 million. That would mean that the farmers paid between £16 million and £17 million—and bear in mind that the total amount collected in income tax in 1961, in round figures, was £22 million. Therefore, the farmers were paying between £16 million and £17 million by way of rates on agricultural land alone. Included in that £22 million in respect of rates was a certain percentage from our farmers.

We all know the farmer needed relief. His income has remained more or less at the 1953 level. The farmers were being ground down by the increases in rates, increasing costs and more or less stabilised prices. In some cases, indeed, what they had to sell was reduced in price. The result was that farmers were losing the incentive to produce and as statistics can prove, they have been flying from the land. Therefore, some help was necessary.

Many people disagree with the Government on this method of allocation. I agree with Senator McAuliffe and Senator Fitzpatrick on this matter. I doubt if it is the best or the wisest method of allocation. Any help or assistance which the Government give, whether by way of loan or grant or by relief, should be given as an incentive towards better farming and to give more employment and to increase production. I agree with Senator Fitzpatrick who said that very little thought must have been given to this Bill. A much better solution of the problem would have been to spend this money on the efficient farmer who gives employment rather than on the farmer who is not making an honest effort to farm his land. It must be remembered that he is getting the same share under this Bill. That is completely wrong and I agree with Senator McAuliffe that it would be much better to give, say, £50 for every man employed by a farmer. That would help to reduce the number of unemployed and put more people to work on the land, thereby helping to increase production.

The method adopted in this Bill may have been the easiest method and, in all probability, it is, but that does not mean that it is the best. We know that in rural Ireland to-day there are shopkeepers and other business people in small towns and villages whose overheads, rates, etc., have increased since 1956 but they get no relief whatever in this Bill. In many towns, we have young married couples who seven or eight years ago built houses for themselves. They got a seven years' remission of rates and now they find themselves with two, three or four young children and with repayments of £2 to £3 per week on their house loans and, on top of that, they now have their full rates to pay. For those unfortunate people, there is no relief in this Bill. Over 75 per cent. of the holdings in Ireland are under £20 poor law valuation. Those people are getting, on average, between £2 and £2 5s. relief per year in this Bill. That is less than 1/- per week. The rest is going to the bigger farmer and we know that some farmers will get £200 or £300 relief per year.

As I stated already, in order to encourage production, it would have been much better to give the relief to the farmer who is giving extra employment, or as Senator Fitzpatrick stated, give a subsidy of 50/- per head on every calf born. That would work out at almost the same amount of money, £2,500,000. If that were done, what would it mean? The majority of small farmers with a family have four cows. Such a small farmer would therefore get £10, while the farmer with six cows would get £15. That would be a great help and instead of some of those small farmers having to close their doors and leave the land, they would have some incentive to stay at home and remain on the land. By doing that, the Government would be helping to increase production which is so vital for the years that lie ahead, especially if we join the Common Market. At present there are almost 200,000 fewer cattle in the country than there were a few years ago and here was an ideal way of increasing the number of cattle. If anybody studies statistics, one thing he can be certain of is that in the years to come there will be a market for any beef we can produce and export to Europe.

The present method of affording relief condones inefficiency and actually encourages it. There is nothing in this measure, as I already pointed out, to encourage the good farmer to increase production or employ more men. The Government had a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the small farmer, who is the backbone of the country, that they had his interests at heart, that they were prepared to encourage him to stay on the land and produce more. They had the opportunity to show him that there was a future for him and that they were prepared to see that he would not be ruthlessly wiped out through increasing rates and increasing high costs.

I welcome the provision in the Bill which reduces the qualifying age for the employment allowance from 17 to 16 years. It is at that age that many young men decide whether they will remain on the land or seek employment elsewhere. I admit that the agricultural wage is too low at present but if the Government increased that allowance to £50 or £60, I do not think any farmer would object to it. The Government should have done something like that.

We know the Minister could not see his way to having any easement in the conditions relating to those who are debarred from employing a man whose poor law valuation exceeds £5. I regard that ceiling as being too low because it precludes small farmers with an £8 or £10 valuation from getting employment with a neighbouring farmer. It should be clear to everybody that a farmer with a valuation of from £5 to £10 cannot get a living from such a miserable holding. I would ask the Minister to avail of the first opportunity to examine that aspect of the employment allowance. I think it should be raised to £10. People in other counties might not agree—some might say it should be £8 and others might say £12 or £15—but in any event, it should be increased.

I regret recognition has not been given to the female employees on the land today. Female labour is playing an increasingly important part in agriculture. Due to mechanisation, the work is easier. We have many ladies driving tractors and doing other farm work.

And doing people out of jobs.

If you adopt that attitude, you must have regard to school teachers also.

They got the marriage ban relaxed anyway.

I should like to see some incentive given to the ladies in recognition of the part they are playing in the development of agricultural production. The farmers looked for £83 millions and they got £2½ millions. But we must take into account that the £5 millions export subsidy on beef cattle last year has been wiped out this year. If anything, in the long run, the farmer will lose nearly £2½ million.

I very much welcome this Bill because, according to the Minister, it will reduce the amount of rates payable to the 1956-1957 level. I have had long experience in this matter of rates. It is hard to place the responsibility for rising rates. There are people who come on deputations to county councils looking to have this, that and the other thing done. It is the same with various organisations. They meet, discuss a matter and refer it to the county council to be carried out. If all these recommendations were adopted, the rates would be 100 per cent. higher still.

We should face realities: the people are demanding a higher standard in everything. They want roads steamrolled and tarred. I believe that in a short time we will have to accept that position, because that is the only way of doing roads, even the by-roads. The people are looking for a higher standard in hospital services, poor law services and all the rest. We all know that the great upsurge in rates began in 1939 when the war began and the £ was reduced in value. The £ of 1939 is worth only about 7/6 today. That should be related to the question of increased rates at present. We have had about eight rounds of wage increases benefiting all those in the public services, local officials, road workers and so on and affecting the cost of contracts for materials, foodstuffs and all the rest. In these circumstances the rates could hardly be kept down. The people who have been shedding crocodile tears about the farmers are, I believe, disappointed that the Minister has introduced this Bill, because it has stolen all their thunder. Senator McAuliffe talked about farm labourers. I would like to know where these labourers are to be had.

In Birmingham.

All the county councils have accepted a five-day week.

Westmeath was the first to do so.

Leix were before the Labour Court recently and the court recommended that a five-day week should be conceded. There were only two counties remaining. I do not know the other one. Is the farm labourer going to look for a five-and-a-half day week? Will he work a six-day week?

He will, if you pay him.

I suppose you would want a cow that would not milk at all on Sundays. That would be very essential. We must face the realities of the situation. It is no joke. I was reared on a farm and I employ as many as I can. I got a farm to run at 20 years of age. I am firmly convinced, as any reasonable man must be, that £17 on the wage for an agricultural labourer at present is no good. I fully concede that point. But this Bill is at least giving the farmers one round when all the other people in the country have been granted increases.

Great play was made with the farm labourers. Many of the people making such great play are people who advocated making money available for this, that and the other thing. That cannot be denied. One must hold the scales fairly evenly balanced between those who pay and those who receive. Local authorities must set a standard as reasonably good employers. If they do not do so, other sections cannot be expected to set the headline. As a rule, local authorities have set that standard.

This is a good Bill, giving the farmers relief to the extent of £2½ million. Those who criticise the Bill do so out of a sense of disappointment because the Minister has stolen their thunder. He has brought the rates which the farmers will be asked to pay back to the level at which they were asked to pay in 1956-1957.

We hear a good deal about production. I know a little about production; I know something about producing good cattle. Farmers have been given every incentive to produce. They get £4 or £5 for a ton of manure. If they reclaim an acre of land, they are paid for that reclamation. If they drain their land, they are paid for drainage. Every incentive has been given to the farmers to increase production. Those who cannot see the incentives are those who deliberately close their eyes to hard facts. I have been in public life for 37 years. I saw low rates and a low standard of living. In my county, 70 per cent. of the farmers are under £20 valuation. Today they enjoy a good standard of living. They are reasonably well off. That is due in large measure to the Government.

Would you ask, a Leas-Chathaoirleach, for an indication of how many speakers there are? We should like to finish the Bill before we adjourn at 10 o'clock and the Minister would like time to reply.

There are no more speakers on the right-hand side. I think there are about three on the Senator's side.

I shall not delay the House. I am grateful to the Minister for the very generous grant of £2½ million which he has given towards the relief of rates on agricultural land. As a member of a public body, conversant with the striking of the rate for quite a number of years, I know that it was generally agreed this year that the rates had reached a point when to increase them any further would create a great hardship on those compelled to pay. There seemed to be no way out of striking that excessive rate and, for that reason, no matter what criticism might be made of the Minister's gesture, it remains a very generous one. We have never had such a generous grant towards the relief of rates as the Minister is making this year. The knowledge that it is being made has brought considerable relief to farmers, big and small. This is a gesture the people will appreciate.

Before the rate is struck next year, I should like the Minister to examine the headings under which we are now obliged to raise such excessive rates with a view to bringing about a more equitable distribution over the rate-paying public. Such an examination might result in an adjustment that would keep the rates at a level the people could meet.

The valuations in the county from which I come are mainly under £20 and, under this measure, the county will receive £31,000, a not inconsiderable sum in a county like mine. Some speakers have decried this relief as representing 1/- or 1/6; had it been an increase of 1/6, or 1/-, I can imagine the outcry there would have been. Some of the speakers, like the Party to which they belong, did not show very much faith in either the measure, or the farmers, when they were given an opportunity of supporting this Bill. I feel they are now trying to justify their action in not agreeing to the measure when it was first adumbrated in the Budget.

It has been pointed out that rates this year are much higher than they were in any former year. Now I am of the opinion that no pressure was brought to bear on the Minister with regard to the decision he has taken. Coming from a rural county, I believe he realised fully what the position is. He appreciated the position of local ratepayers and he decided that the time had come when the ratepayers were entitled to some relief.

The farmers were told not to march in Dublin until after the Budget. That is the instruction they got.

We know how the march came about and it will be very hard for those who justified the march to explain their opposition to this Bill.

An Leas - Chathaoirleach

The Senator will come back now to the Bill.

I welcome the Bill, particularly in relation to my own county of small farmers. We are getting relief to the extent of £31,000 and, apparently, Senator L'Estrange is most anxious about the small farmers.

The approach to this measure, even some considerable time after it was originally announced, is not very much different from what it was originally. Rather disparaging terms were used tonight, the same rather disparaging terms as were used when these benefits were announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget Statement. The arguments put forward were few. Looking at them for what they are worth, they were, in my opinion, rather childish. Senator Fitzpatrick talked of a relief of as little as 1/- per week or £2 12s. per year. What he failed to bring to notice is the fact that a relief of 1/- per week or £2 12s. per year represents approximately £26 per year. He failed to give the full picture. If there were no relief under this Bill, the total bill in that case would be approximately £26 per year.

The relief really amounts to this. Instead of its being 1/- a week, the amount of rates now being demanded from that hypothetical case is £7 16s. It is a total of £7 16s. for the entire year's rates. This is the case that is instanced in order to make this 1/- a week appear at its smallest and to create the feeling that the 1/- is of no use whatever and that while some people are getting something, these people, the small farmers in a county such as my own, are getting nothing. The fact is that instead of its being 1/- a week, the relief to be paid on the total bill for the year is £7 16s. If that is not relief of a major character, I do not know what is.

Then we have Senator McAuliffe talking about £1 17s. relief on a £10 valuation, which appears to be a rate of 37/- in County Westmeath. Again, in that case the total rate that would be demanded in a normal way is £18 10s. The relief given is no less than £12 19s. on that £18 10s., leaving a net payment of rates of £5 11s. on that holding.

The relief as compared with last year is only 37/-.

Let us take it that way. The total to be paid, if it were on last year's system, would be £10 8s. The drop from £10 8s. to £7 16s. is a drop of £2 12s. on that £10 8s. which must be regarded as a reduction of approximately 25 per cent on what would have to be paid if no change had been made. It is a matter of £2 12s. off £10 8s., leaving £7 16s.

I have already said for the benefit of those who may not have been present at the time or who, if they were, did not hear me or did not want to hear me, that, in 1956-57, the net rates levied on agricultural land was £6,812,670 and the agricultural grant, expressed as a percentage of the gross rates, was 45 per cent. This year, I am referring to a contradiction, or what appears to be a contradiction by Senator L'Estrange, that instead of paying £6,812,670, or 45 per cent. of a rebate of the total rates leviable on agricultural land, the figure this year will be £6,300,000, or, again, expressing the rate as a percentage relief on the total rates leviable on agricultural land a rise from 45 per cent., as in 1956-57, to 57 per cent. of relief on that same gross rate, so that what I said in finishing the Second Reading is, in fact, quite true, that the amount of rates to be paid in this current year are now calculated to be somewhat less than the actual amount paid in the year 1956-57.

If we could go back to the level of five or six years ago, I think we would all be very happy but here we have succeeded in doing it in so far as rates on agricultural land are concerned. Yet there were people who felt we have not done enough and that what we have done is niggardly and not really a very great help or incentive to anybody.

We have heard the cry made that those under £20 valuation have not got all they should have got. Let us look at it this way. As I said in the other House at an earlier stage, the position is this. The average payment of rates in respect of 80 per cent. of our farmers is £3 17s. per year. That is the average in the case of 80 per cent. of the total number of farmers with £20 valuation. Side by side with that, we have an expenditure for the very same group of £4 million in regard to health services. They pay only £3 17s. a year. The total amount alone in health benefits is £12 per year per head, so that in fact, it is a £12 payout per head as against an intake in rates of £3 17s.

The people who might have been induced to march because of the rising rates must surely now realise and appreciate the fact that if they were marching, the march was not for what could be done for them but rather for what might be done for those who inspired it. Their overall rate is so low that there is little for relief left. We have got to the total of 70 per cent. and that is more than making a start. It seems to me it is well on the way to complete derating of land. There is not very much now left to be done in regard to those under £20 valuation. I have as much regard for those, and for many reasons, too, than a great many of the people who talk so feelingly about them here and elsewhere. That is the picture in so far as these reliefs are concerned. I think it will be appreciated by those who wish to admit it that the overall increase in the outpayments from the Central Fund this year towards abatement of rates on agricultural land is no mean addition to that which has already been done.

Senator L'Estrange spoke about a claim for £83 million and a benefit of only £2½ million against which he cites a minus figure of £5 million in relation to the export subsidy on cattle having ceased. Let us take the year 1956-57. I think the approximate figure then for agricultural subsidies directly related to the reduction of overheads and the cost of production was in the region of £17 million. Let us take the Senator's figures up to 1961. That figure has been increased to approximately £36 million in subsidies from the Department of Agriculture and other agencies that had the cause of the farming community at heart. Instead of taking these wildly exaggerated extremes of £83 million of a claim being made on the farming community and saying they only got £2½ million and that the £2½ million was brought to nothing because of the £5 million having ceased to be paid for in beef export subsidy, we should look at it the other way.

In that same period from 1956-57 to 1961, the actual subsidy to all farmers increased from £17 million to approximately £36 million. That surely is a fairly good effort by any Government in any five-year period in this or any other country.

There were a few other relevant points raised. It was asked why farmers, who are not farmers but fireside farmers or emigrant farmers, people who have land and do not work it or use it and have other occupations, should get the benefit. A few figures, I think, will indicate just why it has not been possible or regarded as feasible to do much about that problem, that is, that there are approximately 420,000 agricultural holdings designated as such in this country. To get through those to find out who is at home, when he is at home, how much work he does on the bit of land he has, what part of his livelihood he may derive from work on the land as against what he may be deriving from some other source such as running a shop or a public house, would in all probability cost much more in time and in money than would be saved. I quite agree that if we could stop that it would be a saving of money. It would be taking candy from those who really do not want it and should not get it. However, the cost is the real explanation as to why people are drawing these benefits who should not qualify for them and who are not living from the land in any sense of the word.

Senator Moloney raised the question of the period a workman must be employed continuously for the employer to qualify for the £17 employment allowance. In regard to reducing that period to ten months, I do not see any hope that that will be done while this allowance is there for the stated purpose, that is, to encourage farmers to continue the employment of their workmen for a full 52 weeks of the year or as near as possible to that period.

A few years ago in deference to many representations made to me particularly from the south of Ireland where they have some peculiar arrangement that we northerners do not understand whereby the farm labourer goes on holidays for three months of the year of his own volition and at his own cost, I did then publicly indicate that in relation to the jurisdiction of the Minister for Local Government and the auditors— and they are the principal men in this matter—we would not regard the loss of a month in the 12 months as disqualifying the farmer from the benefit. Therefore, if a farm labourer were off sick for a little while and assuming he was not being paid while he was sick and that his card was not being stamped, we decided to allow anything up to a month, emphasising first, last and all the time that the local authority in each case would be the people to decide and not the Department of Local Government. If the local authority decided to allow eleven months employment to rank for this grant I as Minister for Local Government and the auditors of my Department would not cavil at that arrangement. We felt it would not be overstraining the law and that it was reasonable in many cases that this slight elasticity should be allowed. Further than that I do not see that we can go. To go further than that would defeat the whole purpose of the employment allowance. However, that is a matter which, by the time we come to discuss this again, we might have another look at as to whether or not the £17, £25 or any number of pounds short of the greater proportion of what it takes to employ a man is in fact an incentive to a farmer to employ a man he does not otherwise want. It is a big question and one on which I am sure all of us would have very definite but varied opinions. We may look at it again and review it in that light, maybe change it, increase it or possibly delete it. It is another day's work.

Senator Hogan mentioned that he would wish the Minister and his Department to examine the present trends of expenditure which of course have to do with rates. All our problems about rates arise from the expenditure we incur in our local authorities. I can only emphasise that these trends are under continuous review and are being given continuous and detailed consideration by persons specially designated in my Department to deal with these matters and they try to be helpful where local authorities can arrest any trends which may be wasteful of public funds. I can assure the House we shall continue to work on those lines as we have been doing in the past. I think that is all I am called upon to reply to. However, if there are questions on any items on which Senators would wish to have further information I shall be only too glad to give that information if I have it.

I was rather surprised to learn that 80 per cent. of farmers with a valuation of under £20 pay only £3 17s. in rates per year. I presume the 80 per cent. is numerical. Could the Minister give us the total number of farmers of valuations under £20 and then the number up to £5?

I do not think I have that information but I have a total figure which may be of some use. The figure of 324,787 is the total number of holdings of valuations of £20 and under.

If the Minister were in a position to give me the other figure it would make his arguments look a little bit ridiculous.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator may not make a speech, only ask a question.

I have other figures for the Senator which are not ridiculous, I can assure him.

Is the Minister aware that a number of the holdings in the figure he mentions would be holdings of a valuation of 1/- a year? Would the Minister classify such persons as farmers?

There are other figures here which I am surprised the Senators have not already got. I can give the reference: Column 1981, Volume 196, of the Dáil Debates of 11th July, 1962. That is a table which will give Senator Fitzpatrick the figure he wants.

Funny questions.

We are perfectly entitled to ask these questions.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Questions will be asked through the Chair, if they are questions.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages to-day.
Bill considered in Committee.
Section 1 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 2 stand part of the Bill."

I asked the Minister earlier if he had anything against the ladies and why he is not giving recognition to the ladies in this Bill. On this section, I repeat my question as to whether the Minister intends to give such recognition to the ladies. There are ladies working on the land side by side with male agricultural labourers.

Give them a bonus.

To answer the Senator's question, I have nothing whatever against the ladies on the land. That is well understood and the Senator's suggestion is not to be taken as the reason why they are not specifically included in this Bill, any more than in any other such measure in recent years.

I thought the Minister would have become more enlightened.

Would that be enlightenment?

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 3 to 7, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.
The Seanad adjourned at 9.55 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 1st August, 1962.