Order for Second Reading read.
Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
This is an Irish Rating Bill making no demand upon the Treasury. The scheme of rating involved has been in operation since 1866. Under the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894, the Irish Department of Agriculture is empowered to make assessments through the Local Government Board for Ireland upon Irish county councils with a view to the provision of money for administrative and other purposes under the Diseases of Animals Act. Those powers are, however, subject to the limit that a rate of not more than one halfpenny in the pound can be levied at any one time, but as a matter of fact no more than a farthing has been levied, and that no larger sum is raised in this way than is equivalent in the whole to a poundage of "d. for the initiation of the scheme of rating in 1866. From that year down to January, 1914, a period of forty-eight years, there have been twenty-nine assessments, in all, but one, to the extent of one farthing in the pound, and a sum equivalent to a poundage of 7½d. has been levied, leaving a margin of a halfpenny within the statutory limit of 8d. The proceeds of those assessments go to a fund, the main object of which is to spread the cost of the working of the Diseases of Animals Act over the different local authorities and so to lighten the burden on any particular district in which exceptional expenditure may become necessary.Out of this fund the county councils are recouped one half of their expenses under that Act, For example, out of this fund half of the salaries of veterinary officers in the service are paid. The fund also makes good such portion of any expenditure in dealing with pleuro-pneumonia, foot-and-mouth disease, or swine fever as is not covered by the moneys voted by Parliament for those purposes. The amount provided by Statute in respect of these diseases for the United Kingdom is £160,000, of which not more than £50,000 may be devoted to swine fever. The statutory amount allocated to Ireland of this maximum amount of £160,000 must not exceed £20,000 in any one year, but if the balance is not required for Great Britain the Treasury is authorised to allocate such portion of it as may be considered necessary in aid of any Irish deficit under this head. What this means may be gathered from the fact that in 1912–13 Ireland received £38,000 for foot-and-mouth disease and £8,000 for swine fever purposes or £46,000, and I may say that a larger amount will be payable in respect of foot-and-mouth disease during the present year. The last assessment made by the Department was in January last. This was required in order to meet expenditure on tuberculosis and swine fever. The Diseases of Animals Acts were extended in Ireland to tuberculosis in May, 1913, but the special grant which has been voted in aid of expenditure in this direction extends only to one-half of the compensation payable by local authorities, leaving one-half of the remaining expenditure to be defrayed by the fund fed by these assessments. Further, the statutory grant in connection with swine fever in Ireland has been limited in the present year to £7,000. But the necessary expenditure under this head is estimated at £14,000, which means that the excess over the statutory grant, namely, £7,000, will also have to be defrayed out of the fund. As I have explained, a total poundage of 7½d. has already been levied, and there is now a margin of only ½d. within the statutory limit of 8d. Under the Bill it is not proposed to interfere with the limitation whereby ½d. in the pound is the maximum rate which may be levied at any one time. The House will see that this is an absolutely necessary Bill. I am sorry to say that swine fever is very common in Ireland—more common than in England at the present time. We have to meet very-heavy expenditure upon swine fever. We have also to meet expenditure upon other diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease, and we have only ½d. left in the Treasury. We cannot afford to leave ourselves without money, because I greatly fear that these diseases have come to stay in some cases, and it would be very; awkward indeed if we could not pay the veterinary officers and the necessary compensation.
It is extremely difficult to understand the working of this general Cattle Diseases Fund in Ireland. But one thing is perfectly clear, that the time has arrived when it is unfair to charge the taxpayers in this country, or the ratepayers, as the case may be, with any portion of the fund—
On a point of Order. Did I understand you, Sir, to put the Question from the Chair?
The Question put from the Chair was. "That the Bill be now read a second time."
I do not understand the nature of that interruption. I was about to ask whether we are to understand that any portion of this Irish Cattle Diseases Fund is provided out of the pockets of the British taxpayers or ratepayers? The right hon. Gentleman referred to a sum of £38,000, representing the deficiency in the Irish quota which had to be provided out of the British fund. In the second place, I want to ask whether it is really fair to ask the ratepayers in either country to pay what is in effect a deficiency not of the local authorities, but of the fund available for the administration of the Board of Agriculture in stamping out foot-and-mouth and other contagious diseases? In this country the corresponding fund — the Pleuro-pneumonia Fund—when there is a foot-and-mouth outbreak, has to be made good, for the purposes of Board of Agriculture administration, out of the pockets of the local ratepayers. So far as I understand the same thing is happening in Ireland.If that is so, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that under the Finance Bill in its original form—and I understand that this part of the Bill will be incorporated in the Revenue Bill—the whole of this duty, which used to fall upon the local authorities in Great Britain in respect of the deficiency of the Fund in the case of the Board of Agriculture, will in future be paid by the Treasury. If that is so in Great Britain, why not in Ireland? In other words, why should the local authorities of areas where there is no swine fever at all have to make good the deficiency in this account in order to pay expenses in respect of outbreaks in other districts where it is more prevalent? The whole system operates unequally. It operates unequally as between Great Britain and Ireland and as between different parts of Ireland itself. This deficiency ought to be made good, not at the expense of the ratepayer in either country, but out of the Exchequer, bearing in mind that what has caused the deficiency is a lack of money in the hands of the Department of Agriculture whose business it is to stamp out these serious contagious diseases. I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has had to admit that another outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has occurred in county Tipperary. I, for my part, sympathise with him.
I should like to correct a part of my remarks. I referred to £48,000. That was the amount that came from the Treasury direct to meet the expenses of foot-and-mouth disease in 1912–13 in addition to what we spent in Ireland ourselves out of this fund.
Do we understand that if we pass the Second Reading of this Bill no charge will be imposed upon the English ratepayer or taxpayer beyond any balance which may be available under the existing Act?
That is exactly the position.
Surely this sum would not be available: it is provided by the British taxpayer?
Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.
Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow.