First let me make it clear to the House that 77 per cent of all holdings in rural Ireland are under £20 valuation, and under the provisions of this Bill there will be relief of rates up to 80 per cent for each and every one of them. In fact, in my county the percentage of people with valuations of under £20 is between 94 and 95. In the counties along the western seaboard and the other counties with small farms, generally speaking, the percentage would be the same as it is in my native county, so the House will appreciate that so far as the small holders are concerned, this Bill relieves them to the extent of 80 per cent of their rates.
Senator McDonald suggested that so far as valuations of £20 are concerned the Government should go the whole way in an endeavour to do something to bring the incomes of those living on small farms up to the level of people in industrial employment living in towns. Of course, this is just one step in that direction. If I quote from the Budget Statement of the Minister for Finance in connection with this matter it will make the position clearer than anything I can say. As reported at column 1545, volume 208 of the Official Report he said:
It is the Government's policy that a reasonable relationship should be maintained between the incomes of farmers and those in other occupations.
In consideration of the general rise in non-agricultural incomes, they have decided that a further substantial increase in farmers' incomes should be assured by State action. It is, therefore, proposed that the amount of aid to agriculture should be increased, at the cost of the taxpayer, by close on £5,000,000 in a full year, amounting to £4½ million in the current financial year. The increase will comprise:
(1) an addition of 2d. per gallon to the price of creamery milk. It is to be expected that there will be the same increase in the price paid for liquid milk in the Cork and Dublin Milk Board Areas but this will concern the consumer rather than the taxpayer;
(2) additional relief of rates on agricultural land to the extent of £1.4 million, which, allowing for the higher rates being struck this year, will enable the net charge for rates on agricultural land to be kept at or below the 1956-57 level; and
(3) the raising of the minimum prices for pigs by 8/- a cwt. for grade A and 5/- a cwt. for grade A special.
This relief of rates on agricultural land is only one aspect of the endeavour to bring the people on the small farms in rural Ireland as near as possible to the urban standards to which the Senator has referred and to close the differential between the income of that very important group of our people and the rest of the community.
I think I should also point out that the other provisions made this year towards archieving the objective the Senators mentioned are costing the taxpayer £47 million as against a total provision of only £26 million in 1961. That is a fairly substantial provision. While we should all be glad to see the small man fully derated, we have now gone 80 per cent of the way and we are on the right road.
When we come to the provision of national finances to deal with matters of this kind, it is extraordinary how many people, so vocal about giving away money, strongly oppose any additional taxation it would take to make the very desirable provisions which the Senator advocates on the Bill here today.
Senator Brady referred to these other aids that are being given to small farmers. He referred to people in towns in rural Ireland. All I can say about that matter is that it is outside the provisions of this Bill but that the whole matter of rates in rural Ireland is under special study by the Government and is under inter-Departmental examination, as was announced by the Taoiseach some time ago. It is a complex matter as between the claims made by different counties and requires some study. The matters to which Senator Brady referred will come within the purview of that survey and study which is being made by the Government at the moment. Let me say the same in respect to whatever Senators raised questions about labourers' cottages in rural towns. They also are outside the scope of this Bill. It has nothing to do with them or to do with land in urban areas of any kind. Senators will appreciate that we can, in the main, deal only with matters that have been brought to my attention on the discussion here.
In addition to raising these questions about vested and non-vested cottages for agricultural labourers and others in the country, Senator Desmond suggests that the small man, who is being relieved to the extent of 80 per cent of his rates under this measure, has not the means of taking advantage of other Government schemes. Of course, there is a limitation on the small man by the extent of the unit upon which he is living. Other Government measures are in train to alleviate and help in that situation and to bring up his standard. There is no doubt that many small men are taking full advantage of Government schemes. They are taking advantage, for instance, of doubling or trebling in some cases their sheep population in hill areas and, by fertilisation and other schemes, of increasing the carrying capacity of their lands.
According to the figures, it is not accurate for the Senator to assert that the small man is not taking advantage of the heifer scheme. The figures show that, under the new heifer scheme, the average number of grants payable to farmers is in respect of two heifers. These are the figures so far which indicate the contrary view to that which the Senator suggests that the small people are not taking advantage of that scheme.
If the average figure is two heifers per applicant it is quite obvious that the small man is getting his share of that heifer scheme, and more luck to him if he takes the advice of the agricultural services and is able to increase his capacity. No doubt, after the first year and his initial experience under this scheme he will continue to increase his herd. Indeed, that is a natural follow-up to the spreading of the creamery system to the congested areas, where the people did not have an opportunity of going into dairy farming at all up to recent times. They are doing so now and are doing very well out of it, particularly in many congested areas in the West. They are getting a great chance under the heifer scheme to make a good start to get into the milk business in respect of which they have their market under the guaranteed price that is being paid by the newly-established creameries.
Senator Quinlan regretted that there was not a different system of dealing with employment grants under this Bill and the other Bills dealing with derating of agricultural land. Employment grants apply only to 42,000 farms in the country. That is the number of farmers who are concerned with valuations of over £20. As I explained to the House in my opening statement, the employment grant used to be a maximum of £6 10s. In 1953, that amount was increased to £17, not pre-war, as the Senator seemed to think: that occurred in 1953. That £17 is still there as an inducement to those 42,000 farmers who have valuations of over £20.
Notwithstanding that fact, employment given by these men has been dropping. I candidly concede that. On bigger farms with mechanisation, it is quite obvious the farmers are inclined to employ fewer and fewer than in days of yore. I have heard Labour Deputies in the Dáil argue that this £17 is not, in fact, any inducement whatsoever to these people to keep on labourers and that it should be done away with.
At all events, it appears to me that no matter what figure you reach in regard to this employment allowance, in these days it does not appear to act as an inducement to the larger farmers to keep on extra labour. They are, of course, getting the additional grant for the relief of rates—up to 30 per cent on valuations above £20, in addition to the £17 employment allowance which they are now entitled to. There are only 42,000 of those people and I do not feel that an increase in the employment allowance would in any way, in this day and age, bring about an increase in the numbers employed on the land. Perhaps if these men went into a different line of farming there would be a different story, but our experience so far would indicate that an increased employment allowance would not bring about the result desired by Senator Quinlan.
This Government in 1953, in 1962 and again this year have substantially increased the relief of rates on agricultural land and we have now reached the position under this Bill where there is 80 per cent derating of valuations of under £20, which covers 77 per cent of all the farms in the country, and up to 95 per cent of the farms in the poorer or congested counties. We hope Senators will live to see full derating achieved in respect of farms of under £20 valuation and that those people who in their wisdom oppose the imposition of taxation for the achievement of that aim will have changed their minds.