That the Dáil is of opinion that, in the present depressed condition of agricultural industry, the Executive Council should this year provide a special Additional Grant of one million pounds for the relief of the local rates on agricultural land, the sum allocated to each county to be in proportion to the average of the total assessments on such land in the county over the current and past two years.
Back as far as 1925, when a Bill was passing through this House providing a supplementary grant, the Minister for Finance indicated that the question of the best manner for the relief of rates was having his attention. That was six years ago. Since that time de-rating was brought into operation in England. When introducing the Budget in 1929, two years ago—the Act had been in operation for a considerable time before that— the Minister said that since the British Act was passed the question of de-rating had occupied the attention of Ministers and Departments. It is no harm to remind the House of the actual words the Minister used. He said that "in consequence of this British Scheme having been adopted the whole problem (of de-rating) has received a good deal of attention from Minister and Departments since the end of last summer. An inter-Departmental Committee was appointed to examine the matter systematically and its report was carefully considered." That was in April, 1929. A short time after that a De-rating Commission was set up and that De-rating Commission has been considering the matter for well over a year and a half. Here we are entering on another year and no provision is going to be made for the relief of the farming community. We all know that this question of de-rating and the manner in which relief is to be applied does need careful examination, but there is a limit to the time which we can give to the examination, and there is a very definite limit to the time that can be given to it when the industry affected is suffering severely and suffering in such a way that if we delay assistance we may very well find that it will be so crippled that the assistance will be given too late and that the steps which will have to be taken to bring it back to a prosperous condition will require a far greater effort on the part of the community than would be required if timely aid were given.
Now this motion of mine is not intended to be a substitute for a considered scheme of de-rating. It is purely a temporary measure introduced to give timely assistance, because we are of opinion that immediate assistance is wanted. It does not indicate, as far as we are concerned, the lines on which we would propose a de-rating scheme if the duty of proposing such a scheme devolved upon us. We have given to this problem independently a great deal of consideration. We understand the difficulties that are involved, and we think it would not be right, when this matter has been examined by a commission, to bring in any schemes of our own just when there is a hope that such a commission might report. We have got no indication from the Ministry that they have any scheme in mind, that this scheme would be available this year, and, as I said, we are introducing this because we feel that immediate assistance is necessary. It is a case of the old Irish proverb, "Gheibheann an capall bás an fhaid atá an féar ag fás." We want to see that the horse does not die whilst the grass is growing. Why is it this assistance is necessary? In the preamble to the motion there is a statement that the agricultural industry is at present depressed. I think we all know that it is.
I have some figures which I propose to give the House to prove that this state of depression is not an imaginary condition, that it is not the result of hypochondria as some Minister on the opposite side said it was, that it is a reality, and that being a reality, and agriculture being our most important industry, it is our duty to come to its aid at once. I will give some of these figures. Let us take the figures for tillage either before, during or immediately after the war, and compare them with the number of acres tilled at the present time. In 1914 the number of acres under tillage was 1,697,706. To-day the figure is 1,458,465. That is, it is 219,241 acres less than it was in 1914. If we were to take the year 1918, when we had 2,382,776 acres tilled, the diminution as represented by the present figure would be very nearly a million acres, 924,311. Since 1923 there has been a diminution of 210,836 acres, and since 1929 there has been a further diminution of 62,998 acres. Now, taking roughly, say an average of £10 an acre as representing the value of tillage crops, that would represent a loss of several million pounds. As compared with 1914, it would represent a loss of over £2,000,000, as compared with 1918, a loss of very nearly nine and a quarter million pounds, and so on. The diminution of 62,998 acres would represent a loss of about £629,000.
That is a loss due to the reduction of tillage. But side by side with the loss due to reduction of tillage, we have a diminution of the pasture stock. Our pasture stock has not gone up. If we take the figures for 1914, we find that there were 4,236,751 head of cattle in 1914; to-day we have 4,038,344. That is a reduction of roughly 200,000 head of cattle. In connection with horses— I will leave the odd figures out. There were 486,000 in 1914, and we have 447,000 to-day. There is a reduction of roughly 40,000 horses. The only thing there is an increase in is in sheep, but a comparatively small increase that does not at all make up for the reduction in cattle. The increase in sheep is only about 300,000, whereas the reduction in cattle alone is about 200,000, so you see the increase in sheep does not at all make up for the loss in cattle. So side by side with this diminution in tillage we have a loss of capital wealth in pasture stock as well. If we try to estimate this as far as pasture stock is concerned, we find again that we have a diminution of national wealth in the agricultural industry of some millions of pounds.
We have been dealing with butter fairly recently, and it is hardly necessary to call the attention of the House to the position in the dairying industry. Butter prices have fallen, the fall in price representing 24.9 per cent. decrease between 1929 and 1930. Comparing the quarter October-December of 1930 with that of 1929, there is a 32 per cent. decrease. If we compare the prices of eggs we find that between 1929 and 1930 there is a 15.7 per cent. decrease, and if we take the quarter October-December for 1930 and compare it with 1929, there is a 14.4 per cent. decrease. The more we examine it the more we are convinced. We find there is a diminution of capital wealth, a diminution of the farmers' income, and we find, side by side with this reduction in the price which the farmer gets for his produce and with the reduction of his capital wealth, that the prices of what he has to buy do not keep step at all.
It hardly needs proof to a House where there are so many farmer Deputies who know the position of the industry, from their own experience, in a way that no figures will really add to their knowledge of it or convince them more about it. But, in order to show each one that his own experience is borne out by the general statistical information, I am giving these figures. I am going to show that the reduction in agricultural prices is far greater than the reduction in the prices of the commodities which the farmer has to buy and, therefore, I think I will prove to you generally that the farmer is more hardly hit than other sections of the community, than even other producing sections of the community. From the index of agricultural prices, we find that for the year 1930 the average index figure was 124.8, taking the pre-war years, 1911 and 1913, as 100. That is, for the year 1930 agricultural prices were not quite one and a quarter times the prices in 1911-1913. If we take into account the fall in prices that has taken place since 1930—that is, the recent fall in prices—we find that the price of agricultural produce is much less than a quarter as much again of what it was in pre-war years. Fat cattle and fat sheep, for instance, the prices of which enter into the calculation of the index number, have both fallen heavily in price since last autumn. I gave you already the fall in the prices of butter and eggs. Fat cattle are 14.8 per cent. and fat sheep 27.5 per cent. cheaper than at the beginning of March, 1930.
Let us compare the general prices with the food prices. For food prices the index figure last January was 154. The general price index was 168. These are the retail prices. The position really is that whilst the farmer has to sell his produce at something like 15 per cent. in advance of the prices which obtained in pre-war years he has to pay something like 68 per cent. more for the goods he buys. Therefore, the position is telling against the farmer. The index number of food prices since 1924 has fallen by 21.4 per cent., whereas the general price index has fallen only by 10.6 per cent., and the unequal rate of fall has obviously been to the detriment of the producer of food as compared with the producer of other commodities.
There is one point to make, that this fall in prices which has occurred has been to the disadvantage of the farmer as compared with the producer of other commodities. A more serious loss has occurred to the farmer and that is due to the disparity between wholesale and retail prices. That disparity is constantly growing. It is growing to the disadvantage of all producers and especially to the disadvantage, as I have shown, of the farmer. The agricultural price index for 1930, I have said, was 24.8 per cent. above the pre-war level. Taking the recent fall it is probably at present about 15 per cent. over 1914, whereas the index of retail prices in general last year, 70.75 per cent., was higher than in 1914. That is the position of the farmer due to this fall in prices. It has been to his disadvantage as compared with the producers of other commodities. Therefore, as he is suffering from this disadvantage, we think it is only fair that the other sections of the community who are in a relatively better position than he is should come to his assistance at this particular time. More than any other section of the community the farmers are at the mercy of their market. The conditions of their industry are such that they cannot withhold their produce from the market or substantially restrict production. They are much more unfavourably situated than other producers in that respect. The traders in farm produce, the transport interests and others through whose hands their produce must pass before it reaches the consumer, are all in a position of much greater economic strength and are able to make the farmer bear practically the entire burden of the fall in prices. The retailers are also in a better position than the farmer is. The consequence is that the burden of the improvement in the standard of living of the other classes of the community and of the increased public expenditure has ultimately to be borne by the farming section of the community. That is the position and, being such, I think it justifies this motion to come to his relief not when some De-rating Commission will have reported in one or two years' time but immediately.
The importance of the agricultural industry is recognised. If anybody doubts it the census of production, showing the relative poduction of wealth in the farming industry and other industries, proves it. According to the census of 1926, the net output of the agricultural industry was 73.7 per cent. of the whole.
The output of the other industries and manufactures covered by the census returns was only 26.3 per cent. so that, roughly speaking, the agricultural industry is in relation of 73.7 to 26.3. As regards employment, the industries covered by the production census of 1926 only accounted for 107,000 workers. The census of occupations accounted for 186,000. The number employed in agriculture was 672,000. From the point of view of output of wealth, number of people employed and so forth, agriculture deserves to be regarded as our principal industry. On its prosperity must the prosperity of the whole community depend. That being so, everybody interested in the prosperity of the country as a whole must take seriously to heart the present position of agriculture and must be, if it is necessary, prepared to take from other sections of the community in order to assist agriculture. Everybody must be satisfied that to do that would be in the general interests of the community.
Speaking a couple of days ago on the Central Fund Bill, I pointed out that whilst the prices the farmer got for his produce were only about 15 per cent. in advance of the prices obtained in 1914, the burden of taxation upon the farmer had increased threefold. The purpose of this motion is to come to the farmer's relief and lighten that burden. Ministers in the Dublin election clearly foreshadowed relief for the farming community. The President, speaking in Dun Laoghaire, on November 22, said:—
The evidence the De-rating Commission had collected would be of the greatest assistance to the Government in order to decide what was the most suitable form the relief now to be provided for the agriculturists should take. We are agreed that the farmer deserves, and must receive, every assistance that, having regard to our resources, can be given to him.
I take it, therefore, that there is no need for me or for any speaker on this side to impress upon the Ministers and the members of Cumann na nGaedheal that the farmer deserves and ought to receive every assistance which can be given to him within our resources. Professor O'Sullivan speaking at Lusk said:—
When the Report of the De-rating Commission was available, he trusted that they would be able to give substantial assistance to the farmers, not through quack remedies but in a way that would be helpful to them and to the community as a whole. We, as a Government, believe that help must go to the agricultural community of this country, but it cannot be given by compelling people to grow wheat or by the application of tariffs. We should like to give it in such a way as to reduce the expenses of the farmer.
I remember seeing—I have not traced it—a leaflet sent out on behalf of the candidate in that election, in which it was stated that the principle of relief to the farmer was accepted and that £1,000,000 or so was to go for that relief. We propose, in this motion, to give relief immediately and the sum suggested is the sum that was mentioned in that leaflet. The Minister for Finance will say, no doubt, that the round million had some attraction for me. If the system proposed were such that I could get the actual figure—which is near a million —I would have chosen it rather than a million. If the Minister is prepared to take it that the figure should be one half the average rates on agricultural land, I would prefer it to the million because it would reduce the amount of calculation. The amount, I think, is slightly more than a million. The million was originated not by me, but by the advocates of this grant on the other side. I think that it is a fair amount. The amount we could afford at present would be roughly sufficient to give relief to the farmer of half the amount he is paying in respect of agricultural rates. That is roughly the intention of the motion—to provide relief for the farmer to the extent of half the rates he is paying on his agricultural land. It will be seen that the proposal is that the sum be allocated to each county in proportion to the average of the total assessments on such land in the county over the current and past two years.
Deputies who remember the origin of the Agricultural Grant of 1898, and who were here when the Supplementary Grant was passed in 1925, are aware of the lines on which that grant was to be allocated. In introducing the Bill of 1925, the Minister said that as he was in a hurry and wanted it to operate that year—he was in the same circumstances then as we find ourselves now—he proposed that instead of going into all these intricate questions as to the burdens of the different classes of farmers and trying to select the particular class of farmers best entitled to relief, the relief should follow, roughly, on the lines of the original Agricultural Grant. The proposition here is that it should roughly follow on the same lines. Waiting as we are for the Report of the De-rating Commission, and immediate relief being necessary, we think the simplest way to give this immediate relief would be to follow on those lines. The only point of difference is this: the old grant having been fixed upon a certain condition back in '97, is now more or less in the form of a flat rate, whereas our proposition is that the rate of relief should be in proportion to the present burdens. It would be about nine-twentieths if the million itself were adhered to, but, roughly, it is half, and the effect of it, if the grant is allocated to the counties in proportion to the average of the total assessments on agricultural land, will roughly be that the farmer will be relieved of half the burden which he has to carry. It is intended to operate universally so that every farmer in every condition—we are not taking these conditions into account because the examination would take too much time—paying rates on his agricultural land will be relieved of the same proportion of the burden. That is to say, the relief will be, roughly, half the burden in every case.
I saw some speeches that were delivered by members of the Labour Party in criticism of this motion. Deputy O'Connell, I think, said that this proposal was to divide the money in proportion to the valuation. It does not propose to divide the money in proportion to the valuation, but to divide it, roughly, in proportion to the services. The whole purpose is to divide the money so that there will be the same fraction of the burden relieved in the case of everybody. It is not to be divided in relation to the valuation; it is in relation, if you like, to the services, or the total rates raised by the valuation. The fundamental idea is that relief is to be of such a kind as will give a proportionate diminution of the burden right through.
The Labour Party has introduced an amendment, the effect of which is that there should be relief, not as would be the case with my motion of roughly half the agricultural rate right through, but that there should be relief of three-fourths of the rates in the case of holdings where the valuation of the land does not exceed £50, "and of one-half of such rate where the valuation of the land exceeds £50, and where the occupier satisfies the Minister for Agriculture that not less than 20 per cent. of the arable land is under tillage and that the sum required to provide this grant shall be raised in such manner as will not place any additional taxation on the small farmers and wage-earners." There is every evidence of speed and haste, notwithstanding that Deputy Davin said very careful consideration was given to this particular amendment. I do not know if the Deputy was correctly reported when he said that this amendment was brought forward by the Labour Party for the purpose of helping the Government out of a difficult position.