This Bill brings us a further stage on the road to complete Government control. We are rapidly advancing to the position of another State, which controls the life and property of practically every individual in it. I do not think that the Bill will achieve the purposes which the Minister intends it to achieve, but it will considerably hamper certain interests. It will upset the industry of the butchers and it will make it practically impossible for small butchers operating in the country to carry on business. These men will, to meet the requirements of the Bill, have to employ permanently somebody akin to an auditor to keep the accounts which the Minister seems to think they ought to keep. In the case of the average butcher in a country town, the expense imposed by this Bill will make it impossible for him to carry on except he mulcts the paying consumer to an extreme degree. One of the results of this Bill will be that the price to the consumer, other than the people who are to get free meat, will be considerably increased. In this Bill we are taking a further step on the road to complete control by the Minister, by heads of Departments and by a corps of inspectors of every description. When we had the finance motion before us to-day I asked the Minister what portion of the levy would be employed in paying inspectors. I should like to have that information now. Can the Minister make any guess at the number of inspectors that will be needed to inspect slaughterhouses, inspect the accounts of victuallers, play hide and seek amongst the small farmers and find out the number of cattle and sheep fit for slaughter?
I would like to see the Minister on a hot July day—in weather such as we have had during the last three months—trying to find out what an inspector was doing on an ordinary farm. Deputy Corry smiles and it is no wonder. With the fly active amongst cattle during very warm weather it would be interesting to see the inspector trying to discover what particular animals would be fit for consumption at the end of a particular period. I am afraid that under such conditions he would not be able to do very much. I imagine that he would have to come to the farm at the midnight hour with a lantern in his hand to do his particular job, and it seems to me that he would require the assistance of quite an army of the temporarily unemployed in his effort to round up the stock in order to mark them. That is one of the difficulties that are likely to arise in connection with this particular Bill.
The Minister said that under one section of the Bill—this is a point that was enlarged upon by Deputy Belton—it was provided that public money might be lent to persons to set up premises to engage in different classes of business and even to the Minister himself to engage in various operations. But in a Bill which is primarily intended to benefit farmers there is no provision whatever empowering the Minister to lend money so that the producers may be enabled to produce. No power is taken to lend money to a man to stock his land, and there are many men to-day who have no stock on their lands. Any they had the sheriff has got them, so that we have this position to-day that there are many farms in the country absolutely denuded of stock. The Minister is not taking power to enable him to lend money out of the public purse to farmers to enable them to produce either beef or mutton or any other quality of eatable flesh. The officials of the Minister are to mark the cattle. First of all the cattle are to be graded. Then a time limit is to be put on. The farmer, in fact, will not know what particular cattle he can sell or when he can sell them. He cannot sell certain cattle before a specified date, but when that time comes he will not be sure if he can sell them. What is the average farmer to do while he is waiting for that time limit to expire? If he is fortunate enough to have his cattle marked fit for sale at a price that the Minister will fix as reasonable and if the sale period is to be November what is that farmer to do if, for instance, he wants money about the 1st August to meet some demand made on him by the sheriff? Is the Minister going to make an advance to him from the amount to be paid for the cattle that are to be slaughtered in November? The Bill does not make any provision that a farmer can get any portion of the price of the cattle in anticipation of realising it at a subsequent date.
The one great point that the Minister made in connection with the Bill was that the farmer would get the export price of his cattle, and by the export price he meant the price that the farmer gets when the British tariff is taken off and when every other ancillary charge is taken off. Two years ago, when we had a free market in this country, the prices for cattle were very much higher than they are now. The Minister will admit that the prices for beef and mutton were very much higher then than now, and yet while that was the position the producer could barely eke out an existence. He could not put anything by. He could barely live on the prices that prevailed in those days. The prices to-day are very much worse, so that the position the farmer finds himself in is that he cannot live at all and no manipulation of prices, whether they are fixed or unfixed, is going to be of any use to him. That is not going to help production of any kind in this country so far as the farmer is concerned. There is only one real solution of the difficulty. It has been stated many times in this House, and it is to give the farmer a free market. He asks for nothing more. He asks for no subsidy or for any of the other leads in the dark that have been in operation during the last two years. These attempts to sustain the farmer have failed. The plan in operation during the past two years has failed. We have had two years of guess-work and of various attempts trying to keep the farmer on his feet or, rather, trying to keep him on one leg, but all have failed. Let any member of the House—the majority here represent agricultural constituencies—take any five farmers in an average county, and is it not true that four of them are bankrupt? The fifth is surviving because he was in the position of being able to have some money laid by. The Minister thinks that the other four are going to be put on their feet by the operation of this Bill. I am afraid very few who know what the actual conditions in the country are, share his view.
There is one saving section in the Bill and that is the provision of free meat for certain unfortunate people. Nobody grudges them that, least of all the Deputies who sit on this side of the House. It is unfortunate that there should be a number of people in this country for whom it is necessary to make such provision. The proposal to use an over supply of beef and mutton in that way is certainly to be commended, but I think some better means could have been found for doing it than the means outlined in this Bill. Deputy Belton dealt with a number of dangerous sections in this Bill. There was one that he did not refer to. Deputies will remember that we discussed here a couple of years ago a Land Bill. We made a great fight on this side to protect farmers' interests. Ultimately, it was decided in connection with the acquisition of land that a holding of the market value of less than £2,000 was to be immune. But I find a rather curious provision in this Bill. It seems to me to annul completely the protection that was given to a farmer under that Land Act. Under this Bill the Minister is taking power to take over any land. Section 33 provides:
For the purposes of doing anything which he is authorised by this Part of this Act to do, the Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, acquire, compulsorily or by agreement, any land together with every right of way, water right or other easement used and enjoyed in connection therewith.
The Minister will, perhaps, reply that he does not intend to operate that section very largely. He possibly will not, but the power is there to violate a particular section of the Land Act which every Deputy who had the interests of the farmers at heart fought for. The power is in this Bill to enable the Minister to acquire any farm in the country and to sell it afterwards: to acquire my farm or Deputy Corry's farm or Deputy Curran's farm, and, having acquired them, he may sell them if he does not want them. There are certain provisions in the Bill restricting the Minister in the case of an Act passed in 1845 and other Acts, but there is no restriction as far as the Land Act of 1933 is concerned.
I gather from my reading of the Bill that under it he can acquire any land that he wishes and having acquired it, if he has no use for it, he can sell it to the highest bidder. Even purchased lands are not exempt from that provision. With the consent of the Land Commission the Minister can acquire purchased lands, lands on which an annuity is payable. He only needs to get his brother Minister who is in charge of Lands and Fisheries to agree with him that he ought to acquire those lands and hey presto it is done; he can get all the land he wants. If this Bill does get through this House, I hope that that particular Section 33 will be deleted. It ought never to have been brought into the Bill. As I read it, it violates the most useful section of another Act passed in this House, and to me it appears the most dangerous section in this particular Bill. I may have interpreted it wrongly, but that is my reading of the section, and I think it would be the reading of nine out of ten ordinary farmers.
The Minister said that cattle were to be sold by weight in certain districts where machinery for weighing them is available. In remote areas—and, mind you, the number of those areas will be much larger than the Minister envisages—where there are no convenient methods of weighing cattle, they are to be sold on the guess principle. The inspector is to guess the weight. The number of men in this State who are capable of accurately guessing the weight of live stock is very small. I myself have seen some of the most eminent cattle buyers very much out in the weight of a live beast. The same may apply to some of the inspectors whom the Minister employs under this Act. One does not know who they will be, or from what section of the community they will be drawn. I myself should not like to back with any particular enthusiasm their estimate of what a beast might approximate in weight. We are to have no guarantee as to what section of the community those inspectors will be drawn from. I do not believe that the Minister will draw them altogether politically; I absolve the Minister from that. I believe he will endeavour to get the best men he can, but in spite of all his best endeavours there will be a lot of incompetent men employed; there are bound to be. We had the Improvement of Live Stock Bill. The greatest care was taken by the previous Minister for Agriculture and by the present Minister to select what they thought were the most competent men to inspect bulls, but there was most complete dissatisfaction. Government Deputies will agree with me that the most unfair decisions were made. I believe that the decisions were made with all good intent, but the inspectors had different views from the average farmer. Their idea of what a beast should be was, in many cases, almost diametrically opposite to what the farmer would have desired. It will be just the same in this case, because I believe that the Minister will find it almost impossible to get sufficient competent inspectors to put this Bill properly into operation. I believe it will be impossible to find men who know their jobs, men who will be in other ways trustworthy, and in every way suitable to carry out the job of inspector. I believe that even after the lapse of five years the Minister will not have a body of inspectors that he or the people of the country will be satisfied with.
I think the Minister said when he was introducing the Bill — I hope it is not so — that the purchasing of the cattle was going to be restricted to the victuallers. If I am not quoting the Minister correctly he will contradict me. I think he said that he intended that the victuallers would be the buyers of cattle. If that is so, it is going to place us in an altogether impossible position, because if we had to wait for the local butcher to buy our cattle we would have to wait till Tibb's Eve. I did not read that into the Bill myself. I thought it did not limit the buying of cattle to the local or any other butcher, but I gathered that the Minister, when introducing the Bill, said that the purchase of cattle was to be restricted to the victuallers and butchers. Is that so?