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

Wednesday, 5 July 1972

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 73 No. 3

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

Minister for Local Government (Mr. Molloy): Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Baineann an Bille gearr seo leis an faoiseamh ó rátaí a chuireann an deontas talmhaíochta ar fáil. Íochtar an deontas seo ón Státchiste i dtreo 's go mbíonn na h-údaráis áitiúla i ndán faoiseamh a thabhairt ó rátaí ar thalamh talmhaíochta. Sa bhliain seo, 1972-73, íochfar suim thart ar £28 milliún dosna na h-údaráis áitiúla le h-aghaidh an faoiseamh úd a chur ar fáil. Baineann an Bille leis an tréimhse cúig-bliana go dtí an 31ú Márta, 1975.

Basically this Bill is a simple continuing measure—it continues the legislative series which governs relief from rates in respect of agricultural land. Section 2 of the Bill provides for the continuation of the existing primary, supplementary and employment allowances which are given in relief of the rates on agricultural land. 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 [247] and supplementary allowances on holdings with land valuations over £20. The cost to local authorities of giving these reliefs to occupiers of agricultural land is recouped in full by the State by means of the agricultural grant.

Section 3 of the Bill contains an adjustment of the conditions relating to the grant of the employment allowance and gives legislative effect to the change in the employment allowance which was announced by the Minister for Finance in his budget for 1968. This change in the employment allowance came into effect on 1st April, 1968. Prior to that date, 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 budget provision raised this valuation limit from £5 to £15.

Following on the complete derating of holdings with valuations under £20 as far as the general rate in the £ was concerned, 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 for malicious injuries on such holdings where the amounts would be so small that collection would normally be uneconomic. It has since come to notice that small separate charges can arise also in respect of matters other than malicious injuries—for instance, they arise in the case of burial boards in Counties Wicklow and Louth. Section 4 of the Bill provides for the extension of the powers of local authorities to waive any such small charges, which it would be uneconomic to collect.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  I wish to welcome this Bill, this continuing measure, as it is badly needed. However, I am a little disappointed that the Minister did not update the concessions or the allowances and bring them more into line with present-day values. It would also have been far better if we had had an opportunity of reviewing the entire rating system. Even though, as the Minister has stated, some 77 per cent of the farming community are [248] effectively derated under the present regulations, nevertheless the large number of people who still have to pay full rates are paying very high rates. In my own county about 1,800 farmers pay more than half the total rate collected in the county. This includes both urban and rural areas.

It is a very severe burden and one that is being increased every year. The greatest objection to the present rating system is the fact that it does not allow for the ability of the ratepayer to pay. I would have hoped that by now the commission that has been hatching for so long would have produced a report. The time has come when this system should be looked at critically. While it may have served a useful purpose down through the years, the services that the rates contribute to and help to provide are widely used by the entire population. It is most unfair that the provision of these services should fall mainly on householders and rated occupiers. There is a dire need to spread this imposition right across the wage-earning community.

Apart from the farming community, the present system imposes a very unfortunate effect, particularly on widows, whether they be in a rural area or in an urban area. A widow may be living in a modest urban house with a rate of between £15 and £100. If she decides to set portion of her house or to take in boarders, she may be able to pay portion of the rates through any profit made in that way. However, it means that she would lose her widow's non-contributory pension. Therefore, this rating system is causing too many people to suffer. I regret that the Department of Local Government are taking so very long to come to grips with this matter. It is not true to say that a particular section of the public do not want to pay their fair share of the rates. It is an iniquitous system and one that is over 150 years old. Something that was designed to meet the commissions of 150 years ago cannot be as equitable today.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  I would like to remind the Senator that this is a relatively limited Bill in relief of rates for certain sections of the community. The [249] entire question of the rating system, as such, would not arise on this Bill.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  I quite agree, but there are a few unfortunate sections of the farming community and I would like to remind the Minister of how they are suffering. I want to remind the Minister of the plight of many farmers in every county who are the rated occupiers of lands that are constantly flooded. These people cannot avail of drainage schemes or the land reclamation schemes, simply because their out-fall is being held up because of waiting for large arterial drainage schemes to get under way. In my own county we have two such basins, the Nore and the Barrow valley. The latest estimate I got from the Board of Works on when we might reasonably expect an arterial drainage scheme to commence of the Nore basin is approximately 16 years time. In the meantime we have many farmers who must pay a rate in excess of almost £6 in the £1 on land which is entirely useless to them. I want the Minister to make it possible for local authorities to include in their scheme of waiver of rates this type of farmer who has land and who, because of constant and severe flooding, because the public purse cannot get around to doing all the arterial drainage schemes in the one year, is suffering. Their land is unproductive, completely useless to them, and even the Department of Lands will not acquire it for forestry.

When people think of buying land they always make the mistake of putting a tag of the highest price on it. At present time Forestry Division are buying land for as little as £5 per acre. When this land was originally valued in the 1880s it was densely populated and more productive. But today it is unfair to find farmers being forced to pay high rates on land from which they can get no return. They are lucky if they can get somebody to give them £5 per year in return for shooting rights over it. This is something which the Minister and his Department should examine. It is high time the commission sitting on the rating problem reported. They are there long enough and they should come up with some answers to the [250] problems that are affecting farmers throughout the country.

Over the last few years many people have been advocating that the employment allowance should have been increased to £50 or £100. When we look at statistics in every county we can see that there are fewer farm workers in Ireland at the present time, mainly because the cost of paying them a wage is high when one compares it to overall farm incomes. Nevertheless, for the hard work that farm workers must do they are badly paid. This could be solved by the Minister giving a 1972 allowance. The present figure of £17 is ridiculous. It would not even pay for an instalment on the agricultural worker's stamp. Here was an opportunity in this Bill for the Minister——

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  They are normally sons of the owners.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  It does not necessarily follow.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  You will find Senator Honan is nearer the truth.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  Perhaps all the farm workers in Clare are heirs apparent, but that would not be true of every county. From the Minister's figures, 77 per cent of the farmers in the Republic are under £20 valuation. In my county 78 per cent of our farmers are under £20 valuation. I come from an ordinary average Irish county.

(Interruptions.)

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  Senators will have ample opportunity to speak about their own counties.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  It is a pity the Minister did not avail of this Bill to increase the rate allowance. With the sharp decline in the number of people working on the land it would have been an opportunity to bring in a new scheme whereby the gap between the wages at present being paid to agricultural workers could be bridged. The latest statistics show that the national farm income is less than the recognised agricultural wage. This is something many people fail to appreciate. Many people find it difficult to understand how a family can be sustained, [251] keeping the best side out on what is a meagre net income. It is being done and there are figures there to prove it.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  Where do they come from?

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  The Central Statistics Office. There is a theory that the reason the system is being maintained is to allow the members of local authorities to have a say in the administration of their own counties. That is not relevant. The members of local authorities do an excellent job and would continue to give the same dedicated service if, instead of through the rating system, the finance to run the various county schemes came from another source or from central funds. That is why I would like to see the report of the commission which has been sitting for so long on this rating problem. I would like to see the Minister introducing a comprehensive Bill to tackle this problem once and for all.

I would like if the Minister would explain subsection (2) of section 1 because, even looking back through the 1953 Act, I have not been able to find the figure “16”, as reproduced here in italics.

I welcome this Bill. The reason for those of us in the farming community being given what would appear to be a concession is that the Minister and the Government, in their wisdom, know that the finances of the farmers are such that it is necessary to allow us these abatements in order to continue to live in modest circumstances up to 1975. By then this famous commission should at last produce something we can discuss and perhaps replace the present iniquitous and vexed system with something more in keeping with the needs of the present decade.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  I have been enthralled by Senator McDonald's statements about agriculture. Those sitting behind me know the position better than I do.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  I know it.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  I interrupted you so I suppose you are entitled to interrupt me.

[252]An Cathaoirleach: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  Nobody is entitled to interrupt.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  The proposition before the House is to offer greater benefits to people within £20 and £30 valuation.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  That is not true. It is a continuation of what we already have.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  Before the £20 exemption from rates was proposed and the ancillary proposal that between £20 and £30 there would be another abatement, a charter was given to the small farmers to acknowledge that they meant something to the country. This was an Act to enable them to survive. I know people from my area with farms of £20 and less valuation who had no hope of survival until this provision was made. Ancillary to that there were many benefits in drainage, in the provision of fertilisers and various other grants given by the Department of Agriculture as distinct from this one. These people have opportunities they never had before of improving their farms. There was a time when farmers with a £20 valuation farm would be lucky to have seven cows. Now they have 20 or 25.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  Thanks to the agricultural techniques.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  If we had the financial resources we should help the small farmers who are the backbone of the country, but it is no use stating that nothing is being done. I am a member of an agricultural committee and I know precisely what is being done. It is suggested here to increase the reliefs, and somebody must foot the bill for these facilities. There are communal water supplies and other activities within the compass of a county council and this is what rates are for. If you do not want these facilities, you need not pay the rates.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  Nonsense.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  Each time I attend a county council meeting we have deputations from Muintir na this and Macra na that all looking for more facilities.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  Rightly so.

[253]Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  Who pays for them? The rates are looked upon as a penal charge. You pay for the services on a long-term basis. This Bill is another stage in giving small farmers the enthusiasm they need to build their farms into economic units. The Bill should be accepted, particularly by people who come from areas I represent where 80 per cent of the holdings are under £20 valuation. It is a good sign that people in high places are considering the smaller people.

Mr. Butler: Information on Pierce Butler  Zoom on Pierce Butler  I am not a member of a local authority and am a bit at sea. I am interested in agriculture and agricultural holdings. I should like some information and advice. The primary allowance is 100 per cent of the general rate on land holdings the valuation of which does not exceed £20. If the rate struck was £3 in the £, would this be a relief of the £60? That is the first piece of information I should like to obtain.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Would the Senator please repeat that?

Mr. Butler: Information on Pierce Butler  Zoom on Pierce Butler  On page 1 of the Minister's speech he states: “the primary allowance relieves 100 per cent of the general rate on land holdings the valuation of which does not exceed £20.” If the rate struck was £3 in the £ would that be £60 relief?

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Yes.

Mr. Butler: Information on Pierce Butler  Zoom on Pierce Butler  Is the relief given to workmen meant to increase employment on the land. If that is so, the relief of £17 or £15 is a ridiculous figure.

I should like to raise the matter of broken time. Throughout the country, and especially in my own area, there are farmers who are employing workmen on the land who are sick from time to time or not employed over a period of two or three months when the work is slack. Is there any allowance for this man? If not, then it is a burden on a small farmer.

Another point I should like to raise is part-time employment. There are small farmers whose sons may be working in creameries for a period of six to nine months of the year. I do [254] not believe there is any allowance for those people. Such employment is helping the family. There should be an allowance for those people, even if it is only £17.

I should also like to ask the Minister, if a number of farms with valuations under £20 are grouped together to form a co-operative farm, does each farmer get the same allowance? In my area we are considering this idea of group farming. I would like to get this information.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  The same allowance of tenure would apply as if they were not members of the group. The valuation would not be combined for rate purposes. Each rated owner would be treated individually, and would qualify for the allowance.

Mr. Butler: Information on Pierce Butler  Zoom on Pierce Butler  Yes, but if they grouped to form one farm and each of them worked on that farm, would each of them be allowed the £15 or £17 allowance? Four or five farmers with a low valuation are coming together to form a type of company. It is a different situation in a co-operative.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  The Senator is referring to group farming?

Mr. Butler: Information on Pierce Butler  Zoom on Pierce Butler  Yes, group farming where each man would own his own share. The four or five farmers would come together to work one farm. Three of them would go out working and two of them would stay working on this farm. It is a type of Mansholt plan.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  I do not see any difficulty in dealing with that administratively. If difficulties should arise I would not be slow to introduce legislation to cover the situation.

Mr. Butler: Information on Pierce Butler  Zoom on Pierce Butler  I thank the Minister. I also wish to ask how the relief of rates position will be affected by our entry to the EEC.

Mr. O'Callaghan: Information on Cornelius Kevin OCallaghan  Zoom on Cornelius Kevin OCallaghan  This rates relief Bill is valuable for the small farmers. As the Minister has pointed out in his speech, 77 per cent of the rated holdings benefit substantially from this Bill. The Bill is designed to help these [255] farmers where very often there is little more than a subsistence level of income. These people are deserving of the help which this Bill has given in the past and which it is now proposed to continue. There are 100,000 farms which are classed as non-viable or almost viable. These are the farms which need this type of help most.

The amount of £17, which is mentioned in section 3 of the Bill, and which is the relief a farmer can claim for a worker he employs for one whole year, is hardly a reasonable figure in this day and age, I would agree with a Senator on the other side who suggested that this should be increased fairly substantially. Farm workers are now earning a basic wage of £1,000 a year. In many cases where they work at week-ends they earn far more. In that context a relief of £17 can hardly be classed as reasonable.

There is a shortage of skilled farm workers. It is time that a widespread scheme be initiated for training young people who are anxious to go into farming. Where a farmer takes in a young man of 15 or 16 years of age who has attended a vocational school perhaps, the farmer ought to benefit substantially by much higher employment relief for that young man. He is making a skilled agricultural worker out of this raw young man. He is serving agriculture and the country generally in doing that. In the context of industry AnCo are doing this kind of work for many young men who want to go into industry as skilled workers. There is no reason why young men wishing to go into agriculture should not get the same benefits. I am not able to assess the value of the extra relief given under this Bill to the farmer who employs a man who is himself a rated occupier of land. This does not apply in my area. In the areas where the small farming problem is greatest this is surely of benefit.

Mícheál Cranitch: Information on Micheal C Cranitch  Zoom on Micheal C Cranitch  Fáiltím roimh an mBille seo agus ar an gcéad dul síos tréaslaím an Aire as ucht an chéad alt dá oráid a bheith i nGaeilge. Ba bhinn lenár gcluasa í agus déanaim comhgháirdeas leis as ucht an t-alt seo a bheith ann. Tá súil agam to mbeidh a leithéid ins na horáidí anseo feasta.

[256] Taispeánann an Bille seo an tsuim a chuireann an Rialtas i saol agus i leas na bhfeirmeoirí, go háirithe na feirmeoirí beaga. Tugann siad gach cabhair is féidir dóibh agus mar chomhartha ar san sa Bhille seo luaigh an tAire sa chéad alt dá oráid go n-íocfar thart ar £28 milliún sa bhliain seo 1972-73, dos na húdaráis áitiúla le haghaidh an faoiseamh úd a chur ar fáil. Is suim mór airgid £28 milliún agus taispeánann sé, mar a dúras, díogras an Rialtais i gcás na bhfeirmeoirí, go háirithe na feirmeoirí beaga.

There was a time when small farmers used often refer to themselves as “poor misfortunate farmers”. That day is gone. The small farmer can raise his head and keep it high. The Government down through the years have given every conceivable form of help to these small farmers. Possibly the greatest thing they have done is to derate land under £20 valuation.

There are other services then, the county committee of agriculture, grants for various farm improvements and so on, but that was a major advance— the derating of land under £20 valuation. Paragraph 2 of the Minister's speech reads:

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.

That is a tremendous achievement. I entirely agree with the suggestion made by Senator O'Callaghan as regards the training of young boys in what is called the farming industry. This is primarily an agricultural country. There are many difficulties involved, but I am sure that in due course this matter will be looked into seriously to see what can be done about it. Farming is a most interesting and rewarding occupation and everything that can be done to get the best brains into it should be done.

The last sentence of the Minister's speech pleases me very much. I will just quote the last two sentences:

It has since come to notice that small separate charges can arise [257] also in respect of matters other than malicious injuries—for instance, they arise in the case of burial boards in Counties Wicklow and Louth.

This was the one I wanted to refer to in particular.

Section 4 of the Bill provides for the extension of the powers of local authorities to waive any such small charges which it would be uneconomic to collect.

How timely, because in many Departments, not alone the Department of Local Government, quite a lot of money is wasted in collecting small amounts of money outstanding, as a result of which the Exchequer is far worse off at the end than it was at the beginning.

This Bill is a manifestation of the deep interest of the Government in farming of all kinds, with special reference to the small farmer. It helps in giving the lie to those people who gloomily forecast during the referendum campaign that the day when we would see the end of the small farmer was near at hand. Please God, in this country we will never see that day. The small farmer is the backbone of this country.

Mr. W. O'Brien: Information on William O'Brien  Zoom on William O'Brien  I often wonder why this £17 allowance is confined to male employees. I think it is time now more than ever that females should come under the same heading. It is only right that the £17 should be increased, because at present there has to be some incentive for the farmer to employ.

There are very few people employed on the land. This is because most people are interested in a brighter life and are forced into industries in the cities. This might be good in its own way, but it could have an unfavourable reaction on the economy in general. If we cannot get farm workers, then rural Ireland could easily die. Nobody wants that. There must be some incentive to have people employed on the land. Now that we are joining the EEC, nothing is more important than agriculture. It is right to say that agriculture would benefit by our entry.

[258] Realising fully what agriculture means to this country, it is time that the incentive should be, at least double the £17. Then there is the question of the farmer's son. The age limit in that case should be reduced, and there should be an incentive to keep the son on the land.

Many farmers will tell you that their children are not interested in remaining on the farm. That is because of the thought of a better life in industry. We should start with the farming family and try as much as possible to keep farmers' sons at home. A female allowance should be introduced. There should also be incentive to keep the daughter at home, because, as each side of the House admitted, the farmers are the backbone of our economy.

Mr. Keegan: Information on Seán Keegan  Zoom on Seán Keegan  I welcome this Bill which gives continued relief of rates to all farmers, large and small. If this Bill had not been introduced some years ago, we would have many small farms unworked and deserted presently. This relief has enabled many of our smaller farmers who would otherwise be compelled to leave, to stay on the land.

While we all talk of the inadequacy of rates relief, we must not lose sight of the fact that land value has increased greatly in recent years, but land valuation has not been increased. It has not been increased since land was first valued many hundreds of years ago. Therefore, we must gain some consolation from the fact that, while property valuation has been revised many times over, the land valuation has remained static. That in itself is an asset to the farming community and it has enabled them to maintain a stable income thereby securing a reasonable standard of living from agriculture. If a farmer reclaimed his land, improved, limed and fertilised it, he was not burdened by a revision of his land valuation, which would increase his rates further.

We all talk of the rates burden and say it should be abolished; but what would be the alternative to the present rating system? I have still to hear somebody suggest a working alternative to the present rating system. Therefore we must live with this rating [259] system for many years to come, whether we like it or not. If we abolish the rating system, the only alternative is further increases in taxation. I cannot see any difference between direct or indirect taxation and rates; it all comes from the one source.

I welcome the terms of this Bill which guarantees the continuance of the present rates relief system. It guarantees for the farmer continued encouragement to improve and to secure for himself and his family a higher income in the near future.

In regard to the agricultural allowance for male employment on farms, even if the amount of £17 had been increased to £100, it would still not induce a farmer to employ a man, because you cannot expect anybody to work in agriculture if he can secure a higher wage in industry. I do not know how farm income could be increased sufficiently to enable any farmer to give greater employment on the land. The sum of £17 is only relevant to the farmer's son or a relative. With all the new forms of mechanisation which are being introduced, we must face up to the reality of the continuance of the decline in agricultural employment.

Mr. Gallanagh: Information on Michael Gallanagh  Zoom on Michael Gallanagh  I welcome this Bill in so far as it gives relief to people who claim that this relief is necessary. If one were to read today's paper and see the price of potatoes at 75p per st. in the Dublin market and make a quick calculation, one would find that a farmer who grew five tons of potatoes would have an income of £12 a week.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  Ráiméis.

Mr. Gallanagh: Information on Michael Gallanagh  Zoom on Michael Gallanagh  It is time we tackled the reason for this measure. We were told in our history that these people were driven to hell or to Connaught or up the mountains. It is time they were taken down from the mountains and that some of the land tied up with the Land Commission was given to them. There is more land around telegraph poles than some of these farmers claim to have in parts of the country.

I welcome the Bill for a different [260] reason. There is a precedent created in this Bill, in that where distress arises it relieves it. I visualise the necessity for giving relief to many people at seaside resorts this year because of the necessity——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  Not under this Bill.

Mr. Gallanagh: Information on Michael Gallanagh  Zoom on Michael Gallanagh  Because of rates and high valuations, the Minister should give some relief to people in these areas.

Minister for Local Government (Mr. Molloy): Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  I should like to thank the House for the welcome which they have given to the Bill. From what has been said here, it is clear that, through the system of rate relief as operated under this Bill, massive support is given by the State to the agricultural community. It is no harm on an occasion such as this to highlight this fact, because it seems to go unnoticed. As Senator Cranitch, particularly, mentioned, the sum this year is in the region of £28 million. That is quite a sizeable amount of aid to any section of the community. It is going to the agricultural community just to relieve the rate burden. The Bill continues the level of relief which has been applicable since the 1967 Bill was passed and also makes a change from £5 to £15 in the valuation limit for employees who will now qualify for the employment allowance.

There is always a temptation, on an occasion like this, for Members of the House to drift into a discussion on the general rating system. I am glad that that was avoided, in general, by the people who spoke. As it was mentioned, the Inter-Department Committee on Local Finance has already published three reports—the Government have published their reports without commitment—of which the House will be aware: Valuations for Rating Purposes; Exemptions from and Remissions of Rates; and Rates and Other Sources of Finance for Local Authorities.

The present position is that the whole question of local finance—including the recommendations of this inter-departmental committee—have been under consideration and the Government [261] are committed to publishing a White Paper on this subject. All I can tell the House, at this stage, is that every effort is being made to have the White Paper published at a very early date. We are all concerned with the continued operation of the existing system and are well aware of the many inequities it contains; we are anxious to improve the situation and bring relief where the burden lies greatest at the moment, if it is at all possible.

Senator McDonald, when he was dealing with this matter, said that a very large number of persons are paying very high rates. I should like to point out to him that the allowances increase automatically with whatever rises occur, from year to year, in the rates—all the allowances mentioned, except the employment allowance.

The fact that this is so is quite evident from the substantial jump in the year 1972-73 to the figure of over £28 million which I have already mentioned, from the figure of £24.4 million in 1971-72. The grant is increased substantially each year and is cushioning the effect of rates even on the larger farmer.

The employment allowance was mentioned here. I was in the unusual position, last night, in the Dáil that I had a similar type argument as that put forward by Senator McDonald this morning, pleading for a very substantial increase in the employment allowance. It is £17 at the moment. The request from the Fine Gael Party was to increase it to £100. On the other hand, when the Labour spokesman rose he was strongly opposed to the continuance of this allowance at all and suggested that the wisest thing to do would be to abolish the employment allowance. He referred to the reasons for the introduction of an employment allowance which were to act as an encouragement or an incentive to farmers to employ agricultural labourers.

It, obviously, has not had that effect if one looks at the numbers employed in agriculture. The figure has been dropping steeply. If this allowance has not met the primary need for which it was introduced—it seems to be recognised all round that it has not [262] brought any great benefit to those who receive it—the question of abolishing it should be strongly considered. However, I have decided to continue payment of the allowance of £17 for every employee of a farmer who is not the rated owner of a holding of over £15 and who is over the age of 16 years. I think the increase from £5 to £15 in the valuation qualification for an employee is a very generous one and something we should allow to run for some time.

Senator McDonald referred to the question of flooded lands. Lands which are liable to flooding annually or regularly are already valued lower than ordinary land and their valuations reflect the quality of the land. Provision is made for the likelihood of flooding in that way. However, where an occupier of such land suffers hardship by the imposition of rates the local authorities have power to grant relief. The rates waiver scheme can be operated, in certain circumstances, by the county manager. He also has authority to write off rates where he deems them to be irrecoverable.

Senator McDonald asked me a question in relation to section 2 (2) of the Bill. He asked me to explain the reference to 16 years in that section and mentioned the 1953 Act and said that he could not find the words “16 years” in that Act. It would be difficult to find the words “16 years” in the 1953 Act because that Act merely provided for a period of two years. All of the Acts that have been passed since, continuing this relief, have added whatever the period of years the relief has been granted for to that figure of two. The last Act to be passed contained a figure of 16. We are merely adding the further five-year period that I am proposing in this Bill to bring it to 21 years, from 31st March, 1954, which was the operative date in the 1953 Act. Twenty-one years following that date would bring us to 1975 and this Bill extends the relief to 31st March, 1975.

Senator Butler asked me a question in relation to a valuation of £20 and a rate of £3 being struck. He wanted to know if this would mean a relief of £60 to the farmer with a £20 valuation and the answer is “yes”. On the question [263] of continuity of employment, the position is that payment of an employment allowance is related to whole-time employment during the preceding calendar year. In practice, county councils do not disqualify a claim in respect of an employee whose casual absences, due to illness or so on, do not exceed an aggregate of about four weeks in the year. This is a matter for the discretion of each local authority but a period of four weeks was suggested to them as a guideline.

On the question of whether rates relief of this kind would in any way be affected by our entry to the EEC, I would like to assure the House and Deputy Butler, who raised this interesting point, that it is not necessary for the continuation of the agricultural grant that there should be any specific EEC provision or regulation authorising it. It can continue so long as there is no provision which would rule it out. There is none at present so the agricultural grant is not affected in any way by our impending entry to the EEC.

Senator O'Brien mentioned the question of extending the employment allowance to female employees. This suggestion has been made on a few occasions in the past but, on examination, I am sure all will agree that it would be very difficult to apply the allowance to a female employee of a farmer. Whatever duties she may perform of a strictly agricultural nature one would accept that she would also be involved in many domestic duties around the farmer's house. As the allowance only applies to farming employment, which must be wholetime, we would have to set up an army of inspectors to apply the allowance properly. I think it better to leave it out altogether. There are not that many people involved and it would not benefit any great number of people.

The lower age limit for farm workers was reduced from 17 years to 16 years in the 1962 Act. Senator O'Brien talked about lowering it further but if we did so we would be encouraging farmers to take their sons out of school earlier and encouraging [264] young people to leave school and work on farms in order to get this small allowance. I do not think the House would generally support that situation. The present age is a reasonable one and will be continued.

I think I have covered most of the points raised during the course of the debate. I would like to place on the record of the House a reference to the extent to which ratepayers have been shielded from the full impact of the rising costs of local authority services. This has been a most striking feature of local finance in recent years: the increases in the amounts of grants and subsidies being paid by the State towards local authority expenditure. In 1971-72 the revenue spent by local authorities was of the order of £180 million. Of this amount £60—roughly one-third—came from rates while approximately £90 million was provided by the State in the form of grants and subsidies. In the present financial year the corresponding total of State grants, including the agricultural and health grants, is likely to exceed £104 million.

Question put and agreed to.


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