Flax Bill, 1936—Second Stage.

In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, it would, I think, be convenient not to follow the clauses, as set out, but to follow the various steps which will be taken by the Executive Council, the Minister and the grower in each year. In the first place, the Executive Council will, by Order, fix the standard price. That, in the ordinary year, will be done at the latest by 31st January for the ensuing year. An exception is being made this year. The standard price will be fixed this year if, and when, the Bill becomes law. In the next place, the Executive Council makes an Order fixing the total quantity on which this bounty will be payable. That will normally be done before 1st February but, this year, it will be done as soon as the Bill becomes law. Having made these two Orders, the Executive Council have discharged their functions under this Bill. The next thing that will happen is: the Minister for Agriculture will make an Order defining the area to which the Bill will apply. That Order can be made at any time. It may be made before or after the Executive Council make their Orders. It is not necessary either that the Order should be made each year. It can be varied from time to time. It is my intention, as soon as this Bill passes, to make an Order confining its provisions—for this year at any rate—to the Counties of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan.

These things having been done, the growers make application to be placed on the register of flax-growing premises. If the land is in their own possession and occupied by them, the application may be made at any time. It need not necessarily be made yearly. It can be made at any time and they will remain on the register. If, on the other hand, they are making application in respect of land not occupied by them—in other words, conacre—the application will have to be made between 1st January and the end of March. By Order, the Minister for Agriculture prescribes a date before which growers will make a return to him of the amount of flax they propose to grow. That date will be fixed by Order somewhere about the 15th February. Having got all the applications to grow flax during the year—they will be all in by the end of March—the Minister allocates a quota to each grower. That allocation must be made not later than 31st March. The policy which will be pursued in that regard will be to give, as far as possible, to growers within the flax-growing area, as prescribed, at least as much as they have grown on an average over the last ten years. If the Executive Council fix a certain acreage and if that acreage is not exceeded by all the applicants, then, of course, there will be no necessity to cut down the supply of any applicant. But if the applicants exceed the total amount allotted, then there must be some reduction. The reduction will be on the basis I have mentioned—that is to say, growers who apply for a larger amount than they have been in the habit of growing for nine or ten years will be reduced.

Some time about the month of June growers will make a return to the Department of Agriculture stating the scutch mill to which they propose to send their flax and also stating the amount of flax they have grown. At that stage, the Department may direct certain growers not to send their flax to the scutch mill named, if they are of opinion that too many growers have selected a particular scutch mill. When the flax is delivered to the scutch mill an inspector will call to value it. That is what is called the ascertained value. The inspector values the flax of each individual grower and makes a return to the Department. Having got all the returns, the Department will find out what is the average ascertained value of flax in the Free State, and if the average ascertained value is less than the price fixed by the Executive Council, a bounty amounting to the difference is paid to each grower on the amount of flax he has delivered to the scutch mill that comes within this Bill. Amongst the matters dealt with in Section 20 is "minimum value." That means that no flax will be taken into account in fixing the average ascertained value that is below a certain minimum, so that we cannot have the general average depressed by having an amount of exceedingly bad flax brought into the calculation. Having made the necessary calculation, the Department will pay out to the growers, if there is money due to be paid out. It is proposed, however, to bring in some amendments to this particular section, in the first place to make it unnecessary to pay out if the difference is less than 3d. per stone, and in the second place, to make it unnecessary to pay on the fraction of a stone. These qualifications and amendments were found to be necessary in the case of the wheat bounty after we had worked the Act for some time, and it will be well to have the necessary amendments added to this Bill. I tried to take this Bill in the order in which it would have to be taken by farmers who grow flax, from the time the Executive Council fixes the standard price on the gross amount grown, up to the stage at which growers get the bounty, if a bounty is due. I want to make it clear in case Deputies may not know of it, that there is no interference with flax grown outside the area fixed, and no interference with particular growers in growing more flax than they are permitted to grow under the Bill. If it is found that a grower has been in the habit of growing about three acres of flax for the past ten years, and if we decide that the average yield of flax all over the Free State is 30 st. in allocating the quota of that particular grower it is quite possible he might be allocated 90 st. If he delivers 120 st. of flax he is not doing anything illegal. He is not committing any offence; the only thing is that he is only guaranteed on the 90 st.

Is that weight?

Dr. Ryan

I am speaking of stone weight. That grower is only guaranteed on the 90 st., and not on the extra 30 st. that he had grown over and above the amount allocated to him. The same applies to growers in an area not covered by the Bill. They are quite free to grow flax under the same conditions as they have been growing it for the past two or three years, the only difference being that they are not guaranteed anything under this Bill. This Bill is really a kind of insurance to growers. That is all it is. Growers could conceivably combine amongst themselves and pay a premium to an insurance company to guarantee that they would get at least 8/- a stone for the flax. If they get more they lose the premium, but if they get less the insurance company makes up the difference. This is perhaps the same as the business an insurance company would do, but we propose to do it by the Government guaranteeing the growers in that way, without any premium.

This is an experimental departure, and seems unobjectionable, but one or two points arise which the Minister might consider. He has announced his intention of restricting the experiment to Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan. I should have thought that the Minister would have looked at this question more from the point of view of where there were scutch mills still operating rather than from the narrow territorial point of view, and for this reason, that one of the great difficulties in connection with flax-growing has been that it has become more or less unprofitable, for instance, in places like Cork, where, when flax-growing stopped, the scutch mills closed down. It is quite easy to re-open scutch mills if we had expert scutchers. When the scutch mills closed down the business of scutching ceased in an area, and men who were expert scutchers—and it is a highly skilled job—got out of practice, and have now become as rare as expert thatchers. If there is any future in front of flax-growing in this country we should try to preserve a highly skilled trade that existed in scattered areas. It still exists in several areas outside Donegal, Monaghan, and Cavan, and I urge the Minister very strongly to ascertain by inquiry what substantial areas still have supplies of scutch mills and expert scutchers, and to include these, even if only part of a county, in the areas where he is going to guarantee a price for flax, so that such persons will not lose their art. In the event of finding it expedient to develop flax-growing more extensively in the future they would still be there, able to get a reasonably good livelihood, as well as being a nucleus for training scutchers if flax-growing returns to what it was some years ago.

The Minister explained that at a certain stage his inspectors will call upon flax mills for the purpose of examining unscutched flax deposited there by farmers. It is the intention to grade this flax? If so, at what stage is that going to be done? Is it to be done before the scutching operation has been carried out or afterwards? Is it the fibre or the flax? A great many elements enter into the production of flax, not only the scutching, but the quality of the water, and the retting and also the quality of the soil in which the retting pond is made. Flax is one of those crops the production of which involves a series of highly skilled operations, and the resulting production depends very largely on the manner in which these operations will be carried out. Two neighbours working farms side by side can produce entirely different qualities of flax. I should like the Minister to assure the House that in whatever scheme he will eventually decide upon he will ensure that good husbandry earns its reward, and that a high-quality flax will command a higher price than flax which through careless handling has been made inferior.

I notice that in Section 16, to which I am referring, the terrifying description "inspector" appears again. Surely the warble fly inspectors are not going to be added to. Are we going to have another horde of inspectors let loose on the country under this Bill, or shall we find that the dead meat inspectors, the warble fly inspectors, or some other class of inspectors have sufficient leisure time at their disposal to carry out whatever work is necessary under this Bill?

I am afraid we shall not, because the gentleman who is competent to locate a warble fly on a cow's back or flank may not be competent to judge of the quality of flax. A gentleman competent to stroll round with his hands in his pockets, masquerading as a cattle and sheep inspector, would very probably not have the qualifications to act as a flax inspector. But I think the Minister ought to reassure us that whatever work is necessary to be done by way of inspection under this Bill will be done by the existing staff of the Department, the cost of which, I would remind Deputies, has been increased for the coming 12 months to the tune of £23,081 in wages and salaries. Let us hope and pray that provision has been made in that £23,081 for any inspection to be done under the Bill, and that there will not be a Supplementary Estimate to provide salaries for more inspectors under the Flax Bill.

There are Deputies in this House who have an expert knowledge of flax growing and too heavy emphasis cannot be thrown on the expert element in that operation. I do not profess to be an expert flax grower. Flax has not been grown in the district from which I come for nearly 70 years, but flax has been and is being extensively grown in the district I represent. I trust this Bill will have the effect of stimulating its production there. I am glad to see that Donegal is included in this Bill, but I believe the people of Donegal are not selfish in a matter of this kind, and I feel sure that they will welcome the inclusion of other districts in the country where there are mills and scutchers available. I recognise the difficulty which Section 14 is designed to deal with, that is, to prevent all flax growers in a given area sending their flax to the one mill, but there may be a very wide difference between one flax mill and another. There is a very wide difference between one scutcher and another and if the Minister is going to tell us that he is going to grade and pay for flax on the basis of the finished flax fibre, and not on the flax delivered to the scutch mill, then I want to point out to him that it is not fair to compel one group of farmers to go to a scutch mill and scutcher who is not going to do as good a job on their flax as the flax mill of their own choice would do. Very material damage may be done to flax in the process of scutching and the Minister has no right to compel individuals to suffer their product to be damaged unless he intends to grade flax and fix a price for it before the scutcher has had an opportunity of working on it. If he does that and does it equitably, then, of course, what the scutcher happens to do with the crop is the Minister's risk and not that of the producer.

Section 15 refers to the standard price, and the Minister has explained that any man who can get more for his flax than 8/- is free to do so. As things stand at present, I think the world price of flax is materially in excess of 8/- per stone. The Minister has not repeated to-day what he said on a previous occasion. About three weeks ago, when he forecasted the introduction of this Bill, he said that it was right that he should inform the House that it was his intention to fix a minimum price of 8/- per stone. Are we to understand that the Minister stands by that figure?

Dr. Ryan

Yes.

Am I correct in saying that the world price is higher?

Dr. Ryan

It is, somewhat.

So that in fact anyone who grows flax at the present time is getting a better price than they can hope to get under this Bill?

Any person who puts in flax seed now?

I said anybody who is at present growing it.

Who at present has a crop to dispose of. That is rather a different matter.

The Minister and I have just agreed that the world price for flax is 9/-. The Minister for Finance understands that. If there were so much flax available that growers could not dispose of it, surely we must assume that the world price would be lower than the minimum price fixed by the Minister, because there would be such competition to sell it that it would beat down the world price. If the world price is higher than the price fixed under the Bill, there must be a market for flax. Perhaps that has dawned on the Minister for Finance now?

I do not think my point has dawned on Deputy Dillon yet. The point is that this guaranteed price is to be paid in respect of flax that has yet to be harvested.

I quite agree that this Bill will confer a benefit on growers if the price of flax falls by 2/- or 3/- per stone on the world market. I am seeking to elicit from the Minister for Agriculture information as to whether the trend of flax prices has not been upward in the last few years. I should be glad if he would tell us what his experts advise him are the prospects of flax prices over a period. I do not think we have any reason to apprehend a further serious collapse in the price of flax. I think that since the very low agricultural prices which obtained in 1932, the price of all agricultural products—flax, cattle, wheat, cereals of all kinds—is tending to rise, and my forecast is that these prices will continue to rise for the next five or ten years, because I am convinced—and I think the Minister for Finance will agree with me — that stabilisation when it comes, if it ever comes, will be on a very much lower gold content than it was ever before.

There are special factors in the price of flax apart altogether from the general world tendency in regard to agricultural prices.

I quite agree that there is a special factor which the Minister for Finance and the Fianna Fáil Government have only learned since they came into this House. That is that if there is an excess of any commodity, no matter what tariff you put on it, sooner or later the world price will fix the price for that in this country. We had to teach the Minister that over a painful three years. He has learned a lesson now that it took him a long time to learn. However, the Minister has experts at his disposal, and I am anxious that he should discuss this question with the House and give us the benefit of their views. He should not attempt to dogmatise on the question any more than I, because the matter is in the lap of the gods, and one can only hazard a guess as to what the future will do. The point I want to make is that if 8/- is to be the price for flax, flax ceases to be a very attractive crop. I think flax at 8/- per stone is worth no more than oats at 6/- per cwt., and oats at 6/- a cwt. is not an attractive crop. That is all oats is fetching in this country. The Cereals Act and the maize mixture scheme notwithstanding, oats is not an attractive crop for the farmer. If we believe it to be in the national interest to grow flax, and if we can agree that the tendency for the price of flax is to rise, our purpose should be to get the farmers to sow the crop and to give them an effective insurance such as the Minister outlined.

Now, if the Minister foresees a world price for flax of, say, 7/6, then I think that he is acting fairly and generously in providing a minimum price of 8/- and is taking a reasonable risk of involving the Exchequer in a substantial loss. But, supposing, using his best judgment, he foresees a world price of, say, 9/6 and that he wants to get the crop sown and to reassure the farmers who contemplate entering on flax cultivation, then, I think, he should guarantee a price of at least 9/- so as to encourage timid persons to sow courageously. Should any untoward accident happen and should the price of flax slump, he can be assured of getting all the sympathy he requires from this House. He has told us frankly that he is entering on the scheme as an insurance company without taking a premium. We all recognise that there is an element of risk in it. It is an experiment, and the purpose is to get the experiment started without doing it directly by the Government. The only way to do that is to give this free insurance to the farmers. We ought to make the assurance effective, and the only way to do that is by making the best estimate we can of what future world prices for flax are going to be and saying to the farmers "Whatever happens, we are going to give you something within reasonable distance of what our best judgment tells us the price of flax will be next season, and even if there is a collapse, such as happened in the past, you need not be afraid. We will give you substantially what you anticipated you would get when you sowed the crop." I make the suggestion because I believe it will help to make the scheme a greater success than it otherwise would be.

I can see Deputy Moore groaning at the inconsistency of myself advocating a bounty. I am not advocating a bounty on the same lines as I have denounced bounties in other cases. The Minister put this special case in a nutshell when he described himself as an insurance company. He is quite likely to have all the advantages with none of the liabilities, but at the same time he is ready to face the danger of having to meet substantial, but limited, liabilities for one year only, and in the event of his meeting heavy liabilities this year, then there will be an opportunity of reviewing the whole position at the end of the year and of seeing what our permanent policy should be. That is a sensible proposition indeed. Take the case of the Carlow sugar beet factory. Under that proposal not only were disastrous losses incurred, but it produced three children which now afflict the country. I am satisfied that the Minister for Finance, having discovered the disastrous effects of his patronage of that extraordinary creature——

I suppose we will soon have the Deputy denouncing the flax scheme in, say, Mayo the same as he has been denouncing the wheat scheme in Donegal.

I do not quite follow the Minister in that.

I admit it. It is difficult for the Deputy to follow himself.

I say precisely in Donegal what I say in Dáil Eireann, and I say in Dáil Eireann what I say in Donegal. That is a thing which, I recognise, must appal and shock the Minister for Finance. It is the confession of a simple and ingenuous politician like myself. The point that I want to make is that in the event of this proving as unsatisfactory—although I do not think it will—as the Carlow experiment proved, then there is ample scope provided in the Bill for mending our hands. In connection with this proposal, I do not think it will have the same disastrous effects on the national finances as the Carlow sugar beet factory, but should it ever become necessary for me to describe it as a white elephant, I shall not hesitate to do so. I shall concern myself to drive that white elephant out of this country and not persuade it to calve down with triplets.

I suppose that what the Deputy has said with regard to white elephants refers to the white elephant progenitor who is sitting beside him.

The long title of this Bill is that it is "an Act to make provision for promoting the more extensive growing of flax and for that purpose to make provision for the regulation and control of the growing, scutching and sale of flax," etc. That puzzles me somewhat. It speaks of promoting the more extensive growing of flax and at the same time of controlling the growing of flax. I do not know how the two purposes are going to be reconciled. At the outset, I may say that I am disappointed with the Bill in view of the importance of the flax industry and of the high reputation which our people have earned for the growing of flax and the manufacture of linen. Their reputation in that respect is world-wide. The Bill disappoints me because of the great demand there is at the moment for linen goods. A year ago we were told by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance that the Government had a flax scheme in contemplation. If this Bill is to be taken as evidence of that scheme, then very much benefit is not, in my opinion, going to come to the flax-growers. In the case of the linen industry, world conditions at the moment are better than they have been for years. I am not thinking now of the war years, when there was such a huge demand for linen for war purposes that the price paid for it was very much beyond its normal value. The price paid for flax in pre-war years was not up to the price prevailing to-day. Yet at that time the growing of flax was encouraged by the Department of Agriculture. It sent its flax inspectors into every flax-growing county so that growers would be encouraged to take adequate steps to cultivate the crop under the best conditions. These instructors visited the growers and advised them as to the care that should be bestowed on the crop when growing and later in the proper handling of it—in the pulling, lifting, steeping and scutching. The result was that after three or four years—until the war boom came—Irish linen was restored to its old place of pride in the world markets. Much the same is happening to-day. In view of that I think it is a pity that the Minister is curtailing the area in which flax is to be grown. At all events, he is giving no incentive to farmers in counties other than those which have been specially named to produce flax in any quantity.

This Bill confines flax-growing to three counties, Monaghan, Cavan, and Donegal. As long as I can remember, Donegal has always been a great flax-growing county. More flax is produced there than in any other county, not only in the Free State, but in Ireland, and flax, too, of excellent quality. In the counties of Cavan and Monaghan good flax has also been produced. There are other places, however, particularly West Cork, where for generations flax has been extensively and successfully grown. At one time the Cork flax-growers had the advantage of having a spinning mill in the capital of their province which employed a large number of hands. In that way they had a ready market for their flax, but in recent years the Cork flax-growers have been handicapped by the absence of a ready market in which to dispose of the crop. The result is that they are now obliged to send the flax to Belfast. Even though suffering from that handicap, the people in West Cork who grew flax last year found that it was a profitable crop to cultivate. The area in which flax is grown in West Cork is not an area in which one can produce either beet or wheat to any extent. One must have good land to produce beet and wheat, but a reasonably good crop of flax can be grown with the judicious use of artificial manures on any land, bar mountain land. I do not know for what reason— perhaps it is because of the cost of administration—that the flax-growing area of West Cork has been excluded from the Bill. In that area you have people skilled in the management of flax. There are scutch mills in existence there, and I submit that if there are any advantages to be derived from the growing of flax that area should not be excluded. They do not enjoy the advantages that arise from the growing of beet and wheat. For that reason it is specially unfair that the area should be deprived of the advantages of any benefits that might come to it under this Bill. I would also put in a plea for the other counties that did grow flax in the last 20 or 30 years. I know that flax was very extensively grown in Mayo up to recent times. Some was also grown in Wicklow and some in Wexford. I think those counties should be brought within the scope of the Bill. I do not know whether there are any scutch mills in Wicklow or Wexford, but there are scutch mills in Mayo and West Cork where we have trained scutchers. The Minister would be doing a good thing and the right thing if he included the flax-growing areas of West Cork and Mayo in this Bill. It would be a step in the right direction. I do not know why he wants to exclude them.

There are a few other points in the Bill to which I would like to refer. I have no objection to the registration of flax-growing premises—the registration of scutch mills, and growers. Section 5 (4) says that the Minister may refuse "on any of the following grounds, an application for the registration of land in the register of flax-growing premises." One of the grounds is that the Minister is not satisfied that flax had been grown on such land within ten years before the passing of this Act. There are a great many districts, particularly in West Cork and Mayo, where farmers have not grown flax for the past ten years because the bottom went out of the market in 1924 and 1925. For that reason they have not grown it since. I know that a number of young farmers will be very anxious to get into flax-growing at present, and I think that the period of ten years should be extended. I strongly urge that the Minister should bring in the areas to which I have referred as well as Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan. I see no reason why the people in those counties should not be allowed to go in for flax cultivation.

Now I come to Section 6—registration in the register of scutch-milling premises. Under (2) of that section the Minister may refuse on six grounds an application for the registration of premises in the register of scutch-milling premises. Under (a) he may refuse because "such premises are not suitable or are not adequately equipped for the carrying on therein the business of scutch milling." It is very hard to define what would be an adequately equipped scutching mill. It is possible that the inspector may have new ideas as to what are properly-equipped scutch mills, or such an inspector may compel the mill owner to get in very up-to-date machinery. He may consider that none of the existing scutch mills would be up to the required standard. You might have an inspector who would consider that most of the mills functioning in the Free State were not up to the proper standard. That is not my opinion. I know a good many of them. There are some that may need new machinery and scutching plant, but most of them are very good. It is very difficult to define what may be suitable equipment. Improvements in machinery are taking place yearly. In my time there have been various improvements in scutching machinery, and it would be very difficult to foresee what the requirements of an inspector may be. I take it that the Minister will see that nothing of a drastic kind will be done to compel men to put a great deal of money into scutching mills in the purchase of new machinery. There is really nothing in the Bill that would be an incentive to the mill owner to do it, when the growers are only guaranteed a price of 8/- a stone for flax.

Coming to Section 11 of the Bill— cancellation of registration—I notice that "the Minister may at any time ...cancel the registration of any premises." And then (b) says "in the case of the cancellation after the expiration of two years from the passing of this Act of the registration of premises registered in the register of flax-growing premises, no flax has been grown on such premises during the period of two years immediately preceding such cancellation," that the registration may be cancelled. I think that two years is a very short period to put into the Bill in that connection, because the flax grower may have many reasons for going out of flax in the last two years. It may be that sickness or shortage of cash or a number of other reasons may drive a man out of flax growing or flax scutching for two years. I think the extension of that period would be a step in the right direction.

Under Section 13, "every registered proprietor of registered flax-growing premises shall, not later than the 30th day of September in the year 1936 ...send to the Minister...a return stating whether he has or has not grown any flax...also stating the registered scutch-milling premises to which he intends to send for scutching the produce of the flax so grown." I think it is very hard to compel a flax grower to send his flax to any particular mill. Most flax growers take an interest in their crop and if a scutching mill is not giving satisfaction either because of lack of efficiency of its workers or by want of up-to-date machinery the grower will not be anxious to send his flax to it. If the grower did not send his flax to that mill his registration should not be cancelled. I think it is very hard to compel a particular flax grower to take his flax to a particular mill. The grower would have to notify the Department or the Minister as to the mill to which he is taking his flax. The Department or the Minister may turn that down and order him to take it to a certain mill. If the flax grower notifies the Minister or the Department that he wants his flax scutched in a certain mill the Minister should not go against the wishes of the flax grower. The grower will not take it to a particular mill without sufficient reason for doing so, and he should be perfectly free to take it to any mill he likes. Under the Bill as it stands, the grower can only send his flax to the mill named by the Minister. With regard to the bounty paid on flax, the Minister stated that the bounty would be paid on a certain quota. Does that mean acreage or weight of flax?

Dr. Ryan

Weight.

I do not know how that can be done, because a good flax grower who is taking an interest in his crop, handling it well and attending to it well, may produce a yield of 60 stones per acre. He went to a great deal of trouble, expense and so on to get that yield of 60 stones per acre. Going back 20 years, the average yield is something about 35 stones to the acre. The Minister does not say on what weight per acre the bounty will be paid?

Dr. Ryan

I tried to explain that. It is rather indefinite, but I will speak about it later.

I should like to know that, because one man may perhaps get 60 stones per acre, while another may only get 40 or perhaps 30. If you fix the number of stones on which the bounty will be paid at 35, which is the average for 20 years, in the case of a man who has gone to a great deal of trouble in producing his crop if the price fixed should by any chance drop to 6/- per stone he is guaranteed 8/- for 30 or 35 stones, and he has to take pot luck for the remainder. I think it is very hard for the Minister to arrange where he is going to draw the line, and to decide on what quantity of flax per acre he is going to pay the bounty. It would be to the benefit of growers and useful to the House to know from the Minister whether he has thought that out, and when or how it is going to be worked out. With regard to inspection, Section 16 of the Bill says: "All flax grown on registered flax-growing premises which is lawfully sent by the registered proprietor of such premises for scutching to registered scutch-milling premises shall be scutched at such scutch-milling premises, and ... be inspected, weighed, graded, and valued in such premises in accordance with the next following sub-section of this section." I take it that an inspector is supposed to be at each scutch mill when each load of flax is scutched?

Dr. Ryan

No. The scutched flax must be kept until he calls.

That is very hard on the scutch miller. If you have an inspector going round 75 mills, as in the case of the County Donegal, a number of those mills have no storage accommodation except what is required to hold the raw flax fibre before it is scutched, and the system invariably is that when each grower gets his flax scutched he removes it to his own premises. If it has to be stored by the miller he runs considerable risk, and will have to insure very heavily. First of all he has to put up storage accommodation, and then insure very heavily against any loss that may be incurred while the flax is held on his premises. I think some other way should be suggested, because it is very unfair to the scutch mill owner to have to hold perhaps six, eight or ten tons of flax until an inspector comes around to grade it. The flax is supposed to be weighed by the proprietor of the scutch milling premises in the presence of an inspector at the time appointed for such inspection by the inspector. When the flax is scutched it is weighed, and a record is kept in the books by the scutch mill owner and by the owner of the flax. It will mean a lot of unnecessary repetition, because, when the inspector has to come round, it all has to be reweighed and examined stone by stone to find out its grade. I know it is a difficult matter to handle, but I think some way should be found so that the mill owner would not be compelled to put up big storage accommodation and insure heavily against burnings or anything of that sort.

The Bill does not go very far to meet the situation which is facing us in the country, with world prices as they are, and Russia—which is the great flax fibre producing country of the world—providing about 95 per cent. of the flax fibre required for world supplies. At the moment Russia is going in for the manufacture of the raw material into linen, and with the improvement in conditions which has been recorded time and again in Russia—heretofore they sent practically all their stuff out of the country but now they are going in for using their own linens and are absorbing also a good deal of the German flax fibre—encouragement should be given to the development of the flax industry here. Our people have a knowledge of the cultivation and handling of flax. It was inborn in us. Our climate and soil are suitable; we have excellent rivers and streams and the water for steeping is excellent. The flax fibre produced here was the strongest produced in the world, although it did not command the highest price. We could not compare with Courtrai flax in price or quality. When our flax was selling at 7/- a stone here the Courtrai flax was selling at 30/-. Taking into account the conditions under which they worked in Courtrai and the cost of producing that stone of flax—I had an opportunity of spending a little time there and studying the Courtrai system— our pre-war price of 7/- a stone was a more advantageous price to the Irish farmer than the 30/- a stone was to the Belgian farmer. There will always be a demand for Irish flax; the spinners cannot do without it. With the Russian supply not coming into the country, there will be a greater demand for the coarser qualities of raw flax. The three qualities required to get the necessary fineness and strength in the thread are the coarse Russian, the fine Courtrai and the medium Irish quality. I can foresee a good time ahead for the flax growers in this country if they only get the encouragement they ought to get from the Minister and his Government.

We have no spinning mill in the Free State, but I do not see why, when we are developing other industries that are new to the country and that do not give anything like the employment that the flax and linen industry would give, we should not try to make flax the national crop of this country, and develop the production of linen again. Our Irish flax will always be required for blending with the other varieties to produce the strength in the thread, and if we had a spinning factory established in the Free State, as we have the beet factories and the flour mills, it would give much more employment, and develop a healthier arm to our industrial wing than any arm that we have at present. An acre of flax, from the time it is put into the ground until it leaves the weaving mill, gives employment to four hands all the year round, and if we had, as we had in times gone by, 35,000 or 40,000 acres grown in the Free State, and our own spinning and weaving mills working, in two years all the unemployed we have in this State would be absorbed in the linen industry.

I think that is a matter that deserves the serious consideration of the Minister and his Government at present. Instead of this measly 8/- a stone which is being offered to the farmer to save him from destruction in the matter of the growing of flax—because the price of lowest quality flax this year did not go below 8/- a stone in the northern markets—if the Minister wished to give encouragement to flax growing, as is suggested by the phrasing in the Bill—"the promotion of the growing of flax"—he should start this year with a price of 10/- a stone and see how it would work out. There would then be some incentive. The Bill, however, is coming too late in any case, because the ground is prepared and I expect most people have their flax sown; but perhaps the Minister will be wiser before this time next year, and will do something better than this Bill proposes to do to give encouragement to the flax growers and to the farmers who can grow flax in Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan, West Cork and Mayo, and in those places where they cannot grow other crops.

There is one other matter I should like to refer to which is not included in the Bill. In the Department's Estimate, there is some little sum allowed for the training of scutchers. That is a step in the right direction because there is no use in the farmer producing a good crop of flax if it is afterwards to be mauled and battered in the scutch mill. The whole process of flax growing, from the time the farmer starts to plough the ground until the flax leaves the weaving mill, is a highly technical matter, and the work in the scutch mill is, I consider, the most important feature. A farmer may produce an excellent crop of flax, and take it to the scutch mill. If the man there is an incompetent man, a man who is not properly skilled in the handling of the strick of flax and holding it to the beaters in the scutch mills, it may get battered and broken, and the fibre reduced in value by 10 per cent. and sometimes 20 per cent.

One of the most important things I should like to see is inspection of the work in the scutch mills to ensure that it is properly done. There will be no necessity for improvement in machinery to achieve this. All that is necessary is to see that the scutchers are properly trained and know their job and can do it. The man who is able to do good scutching and to save the weight of his flax is the man who earns most, and not the careless man. If he is paid for scutching by the stone, the careless man will not have as much at the end of the week as the expert scutcher who is able to handle his flax well. The Minister stated that the standard price was to be fixed on 31st January of each year. It will be fixed this year immediately after the Bill becomes an Act. I do not know why he fixes 31st January as the date, because the flax fibre season commences about 1st October.

Dr. Ryan

That is for the following year.

You may have any amount of variations in price from 1st January to 1st October. We often finished a flax-scutching season with very high prices, but the law of supply and demand might bring the price of the crop the following year considerably below what it was at the end of the season. I do not know that you can fix the price on 1st January in respect of a season starting on 1st October, and I think that is an inopportune time for fixing the standard price. The approaching opening of the flax fibre season, which is generally about 1st October, would be the time to fix the standard price. If prices improve there will be no necessity for this Bill. I am optimistic with regard to the future of flax, and if my optimism is justified there will be no necessity for this Bill at all, but in order to give the industry the encouragement it ought to get, the Minister should have fixed a fair price.

There is one point more with regard to the finished article. If we had the proper acreage here under flax to meet our own requirements and have a good deal for export, we would have our own spinning and weaving mills, and we would consume a good deal of our own stuff. If it were made the national crop instead of having paper serviettes, as we have here in the Restaurant in Leinster House at lunch and tea time, we would have Irish linen serviettes. That would be a step in the right direction and would greatly help the development of the industry. The Government might go further if they want to push the flax industry and see that manufacturers put a good percentage of Irish linen in the collars worn by men. The collar I am wearing at the moment is supposed to be Irish linen, but there is no more Irish linen in it than there is in this pencil. If we had a percentage of Irish linen in collars and clothes generally, and if the Government made a move in the direction I suggest of compelling our own people to use Irish linen, you would have the flax and linen industry well developed in a very short time. There is a precedent for this, because in times gone by, when an alien Government was here, when there was a slump in the linen trade, they compelled the clergymen, in order to encourage the development of the Irish linen trade, to wear linen surplices and cypresses at funerals and church services generally. That was, at that time, a great incentive to the development of the Irish linen industry, and if our Government were to go on these lines and to do something similar, they would help to bring back one of our oldest and one of our greatest industries, an industry that would give a great deal of employment—would, in fact, give more employment than many other industries—and that would be beneficial in many other ways also. Apart from the employment that would be given, it would be of benefit to the farmers. It is a catch crop. Any crop can be grown after it on the same land. Corn, mangolds, turnips, potatoes and so on can be grown after flax with advantage. As I say, it was the greatest and the oldest industry in this country, and if it were developed it should be the greatest industry we would have in this State. I put it to the Minister that if the suggestions I make were adopted, this industry would be of advantage to all and could be made a great national asset.

I do not intend to say much except merely to say that I am heartily in agreement with Deputy O'Donovan, first as regard areas, and then as regards the general outline of the industry. If we look back over the past history of West Cork, even up to the years of the war, we find that it is admitted, even by writers outside this country, that it was from there came the men who first started the great mills across at Lancashire. If you look at the history of Bandon you will find that, about midway in the eighteenth century, it was the centre of the cotton industry in the whole British Islands. Deputy O'Donovan has certainly sounded a note with which I am in thorough agreement.

There is undoubtedly a wonderful future for flax in this country, if we have the pluck to go ahead with its development, and the chances are 100 to 1 that the Minister will never lose one penny as a result of it. However, when starting any enterprise, there can be nothing better than to give a good impression at the start. Farmers, reading this and seeing the proposal to confine it to three counties, may have a bad impression; first, because it is not generally understood, and, secondly, because they look, as it were, on the bad side of things and say that such-and-such might happen, and they might stand to lose. Each and all of us know perfectly well, looking at the world as it is to-day, that we are forced to-day to create industries of our own. I am in entire agreement with Deputy O'Donovan when he says that the development of this industry would go a long way to solve the problem of unemployment, and I also heartily endorse what he has said with regard to collars and other articles of dress.

There is another aspect of the matter in regard to West Cork, and that is that West Cork is isolated. It is no man's child as far as industries go. It is too far away and too far out of the world. It must be remembered that flax must have a poor soil and that the land that is suitable for the growing of wheat or beet may not be suitable for the growing of flax. Flax does absorb an enormous amount of potash out of the land, but generally, in speaking of poor land, I have seen cliffs where flax can be grown, and in the parts of West Cork to which I refer, there is an extensive area of land of that description. Accordingly, it is of importance to consider the position and to give these places a chance. I do not intend to delay the House. I have had very little experience of flax as compared with Deputy O'Donovan. I have seen it grown and pulled once or twice, and that is all, but before the war, around our country it was grown extensively, and I will guarantee that, if it is given a chance, West Cork will be to the forefront in Ireland in connection with this matter of the growing of flax. I therefore earnestly appeal to the Minister to fall in with Deputy O'Donovan's suggestion. The Minister need not fear taking a chance. He will not be taking a chance. I believe, however, that there is no use in doing a thing piecemeal, and I advise the Minister to take the bold step. If that is done, I have confidence in my Government and in the future.

I also would like to support Deputy O'Donovan in his plea for the inclusion of West Cork. As Deputy O'Donovan said, we are not getting what we should get out of the general Governmental policy. Perhaps, now, under this Flax Bill we shall get some little bit of help, and I do not see why the Minister should not allow us to get any benefits we might be able to derive in this connection. I am referring not alone to Cork but to any other counties in the same position. I think there are close on half-a-dozen scutching mills in West Cork, and I think the Minister should consider Deputy O'Donovan's suggestion as to developing the flax industry to the fullest extent. We want to employ our people and we can grow flax. As well as being able to grow it, I think we are quite capable of weaving it and using it. Now, I hope that the Minister will see his way to include West Cork and the other districts that have a tradition of flax-growing. Undoubtedly the tradition is in West and North Cork. They have been growing it there and they can grow it, and so I think they ought to be given a chance.

One heard some rather amusing things here this evening about flax. In listening to some of the speeches here this evening, I could not help regretting that I did not have some ordinary farmer from my own constituency here in the House to hear the speeches about the growing of flax, the handling of flax, and the using of flax. I must congratulate Deputy O'Donovan for being a good advertising agent for flax or linen, but I think he is far too modest. Why stop at the napkins? What about the table covers in the restaurant? What about the rest of the House? What about the coverings on the chairs in this House—the chairs we sit on? This is foreign leather, I think, and Irish linen would serve much better as a covering. It could be dyed if necessary.

Then there are the curtains around here. They could be all of Irish linen. Deputy O'Donovan was much too modest. What about the landing outside, and the main staircase, and the passages, and so on? They could all be covered with Irish linen in some form or another. We had better get down to the serious part of this matter and not be making speeches here for publication in the Press. Let us not forget that the cultivation and handling of flax is one of the most difficult jobs on a farm. No amount of nonsense in this House is going to dispose of that. That being so, is this House to give a false impression to the country that after the passing of this Bill farmers have nothing to do but to grow flax without any limitation whatever and that there will be an enormous demand for it? There would be nothing of the kind.

Within the last year international circumstances have arisen which aroused interest in flax-growing. About 12 months ago the world price of flax was about £20 a ton. Then Russia made up her mind that she would enter very extensively into the manufacturing end of the flax industry. In doing that she adopted a first-class weapon to put her competitors out of the market. Having got the machinery into her factories, she said that she would not sell flax except at such a price that would make it prohibitive for her competitors, and the price of flax rose to £70 per ton. I suppose that is one of the main motives behind this Bill. We must not mislead the agricultural community into the belief that that is permanent or that these conditions will continue. If Russia, with her enormous resources, goes in for the intensive cultivation of flax and the cheap production of the manufactured material, there is no use in Irish farmers going in for extensive flax-growing, because the linen manufacturers will not be able to compete with what Russia will be able to produce the material at.

So far as Irish farmers are concerned, the real prospect I see is that more linen will be used for industrial purposes. I know, for example, that various firms in the North of Ireland for the last year or two have been getting orders to make a special kind of linen for aeroplane wings. In that direction there may be considerable room for the consumption of flax. That demand, however, would not be enormous. Perhaps if Great Britain, France and Italy took their entire supplies from us we would be able to sell to them all that we produce. I am saying this by way of warning, because the speeches which we have heard from West Cork Deputies seem to me to be too optimistic. It is always better to strike a happy medium.

Why are they too optimistic?

In saying that there will be an inexhaustible market for flax.

Of course your constituency is included in the area.

I know something about flax-growing and about the industry generally. I have been actually involved in its rise and in its fall and in the losses sustained. In Donegal we made some money during the war out of flax-growing, but what about what has happened since? During the three years succeeding the war every flax-grower lost all the money he had made during the war, the collapse was so complete. Up to 1920 the price of flax was such that even servant boys and labourers' sons took land for flax-growing at £20 per acre. At the end of the war, however, the flax could not be sold. It lay there for years unsold. We should not lose our heads about flax-growing.

I also wish to correct another thing which was stated by Deputy Corkery and Deputy Hales, that flax can be grown on bad land. Of course it can. You can grow anything on bad land— wheat, beet, tobacco or anything else. But what kind of a crop are you going to grow? It is idle to suggest that you can grow flax of a marketable quality on very bad land. It is impossible. It is entirely misleading for Deputy Corkery and Deputy Hales to suggest to their constituents in West Cork that they can grow flax of a marketable quality on bad land.

What are the mineral constituents required to grow flax? What is the analysis of the manure required?

The flax crop is one of the severest that you can put into land. To suggest that poor land can grow flax successfully is misleading the small farmers in the poorer parts of the country who may attempt to grow it and who do not know much about it. It is an expensive crop to put in. The land needs special preparation for it. The flax seed itself is expensive. Except the crop is a good one, by the time you have it pulled, retted, dried and ready for the mills you will have nothing out of it.

This Bill proposes in the main to deal with the details of the manufacturing end, as it were, of this industry; that is to say, after the flax is grown. I have been considering the question raised by Deputy O'Donovan as to how the bounty should be paid. I agree that it is very difficult for the Minister to adopt any other system except that of weight. But then the difficulty pointed out by Deputy O'Donovan arises, that the yield of flax varies considerably. You may have two fields of flax, perhaps on the same farm, and the crop on one field may look as good as that on the other. Nobody, however, can guarantee that the yield of one field will be as good as the other. When you come to pull it and make it ready for the mill as scutch you may find an incredible difference in the yield of the two fields.

The Minister in his opening speech answered Deputy O'Donovan's point in this way. He says that he is not handicapping any farmer as to the quantity of flax he may grow. He is going to help him by paying a bounty on a prescribed quantity, but the farmer can grow as much flax as he likes. If he grows a certain acreage which yields more than the quantity on which a bounty will be paid, he has an open market in which to sell it. Perhaps no machinery can be devised better than that.

There are two matters about which I see considerable difficulty, and if there was some way of meeting them I would be very anxious to do it. I shall give some time to the matter and perhaps think out some machinery. First we have the registration of scutch mills. I think that in this matter it would be wise for the Minister to take his courage in his hands, get a list of these scutch mills and license each and every one of them. Deputies who know anything about the flax industry are aware that these mills were all run on scientific lines, in so far as scientific work can be applied to the scutching of flax. These mills were all first-class mills with first-class men working in them, men who were scutchers all their lives, whose fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers were scutchers. These people had a family tradition to live up to; they were all experts. There may be parts of the country where there is no tradition in regard to flax-growing or scutching. In the case of Donegal, that does not arise. There is not a solitary scutch mill there that has been in operation but will turn out first-class work. It would be a handicap if these men were not registered. A farmer has been going all his life to a particular scutch mill because he gets good work done in it, and he believes he can get that still; he believes he can get better scutching and a better yield from a particular mill than he would get anywhere else. It would be a great hardship on that man if that particular mill was not licensed or registered.

As regards, inspection work taking place in the mill, that is going to create a great difficulty. We know how these mills are constructed. At a certain period of the year the farmers draw in an enormous quantity of raw flax to be scutched. That demands an enormous storage. Perhaps it puts a demand on the mill owner with regard to storage that he cannot meet. A lot of the flax has to remain outside until such time as other flax is scutched and taken away and room is made for further storage. That is the first difficulty the owner of a mill is up against—the difficulty with regard to storing flax. The farmers as a rule have always a quiet time in connection with other agricultural work, a period when they are free to cart the flax to the mill and they all do it about the same time. There are then perhaps hundreds of tons stored there, especially when flax is grown extensively. Of course the Minister does not trouble about how the flax comes there, but when it comes it has to be kept until it is inspected, weighed and priced. That is going to create a problem for the owners of the scutch mills. I do not think this House should ask the owners to erect additional storage for flax. We must remember that when the flax is scutched it then becomes the finished product, and it must get very good care. It must be stored in a stone building with a slated roof, if possible, in order that it will not contract any dampness. That is the difficulty I see about storing an enormous lot of flax after it is scutched—if it is allowed to remain for a considerable period until the inspector calls to weigh it in the mill and price it.

Deputy Dillon spoke about inspectors. This House need not be under any delusion about that matter. If there is going to be any inspection of flax it must be by men who know all about the industry. It is the one thing that no layman can do. He must be an expert on the quality, not of the lint, but of the finished article. He must be able to go to a parcel of the finished article, pick out a handful and say that is worth so much. There is no use in suggesting that the warble fly, or the free beef inspectors, should be put to this job. The men for this job, if they are to be of service to the Minister, must be experts. They must be men who have been flax buyers, because the men who grow flax, who send it to the mill to be scutched, simply produce the article, bring it to the market and a buyer from some of the mills prices it for them; they generally get the market price for good quality flax. Such men would not be suitable as inspectors. No ordinary fellow, even the son of a farmer growing flax all his lifetime, would be suitable to fill this job. If there are not sufficient officials in the Department, and I take it there are not, there must be a body of men employed—it may be a very small body—but they must be experts. We want nothing of the warble-fly type of inspector.

In Section 5 (4) (b) it says: "that the Minister is not satisfied that flax had been grown on such land within ten years before the passing of this Act;..." I do not know what inspired the inclusion of that, because any one who knows anything about flax is aware that hundreds and hundreds of acres on which flax was grown in rotation have not been used for flax-growing for the last ten, or even 14 years. Probably flax was grown on that land down through the ages, but for the last 14 or 15 years no flax has been grown there. If the Minister is going to adopt what he sets out in the preamble of the Bill, why should he put in that? If you are anxious for an extension of the area under flax you must encourage farmers to grow flax on suitable land that has hitherto grown flax and that has only gone out of production owing to the fact that the bottom fell out of the flax market. The Minister would be wise to reconsider that sub-section.

I have dealt with the registration of scutch mills. I think the Minister should look into that matter again and see what can be done in connection with this registration and about insisting upon flax being brought to a registered mill. An inspector could be sent to inspect premises and if he was satisfied that the building was structurally sound and efficient for the purpose of storing flax and keeping it dry, all premises of that kind should be registered.

Now there is a provision in regard to registered premises that the flax-grower must be the occupier of the premises. The Minister may not know the practice in these matters. This provision would preclude many people who grow a lot of flax from getting registration because they are not the occupiers of the premises. There are many farmers who grow portion of flax. A man may have a large farm and may go in for extensive tillage. For financial reasons, or with a view to helping agricultural labour, farmers may only put in a certain amount of flax; and they may let a field of five or ten acres to the son of an agricultural labourer or perhaps to a man who had a scutch mill himself at one time. Boys—sons of agricultural labourers—do a lot of flax-growing, and if the Minister retains that provision, it would have the effect of precluding that type of man from having a flax-growing premises. I think the Minister would be well advised to drop the word "occupier" and to put in instead the word "grower" which would cover those people to whom I am referring. In the past you would get very industrious young men in the country with no land of their own, or perhaps with a very small amount of land, sons of labourers, with plenty of push and go in them, and who used to engage in flax-growing in a small way in order to make a few pounds. That provision would disqualify a young man or a boy of that type from becoming registered as a grower of flax. I welcome this Bill as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough.

There is another matter that I wish to refer to, and that is with regard to paying the minimum and putting no restraint upon the grower as to the amount he may grow. I suppose these things are rather narrow and only arise in the mind of a person who knows something about the law. Assuming a farmer grows ten acres of flax and only gets a quota for five acres. Five acres of his flax will be of good quality and will bring a higher price in the market. It may very well be in a case of that kind that when he gets the whole ten acres scutched he will take away that portion which is of the higher value, and will leave the poorer stuff in order to get the bounty. That is one of the weaknesses I see, but it is very hard to provide for everything. Some machinery could be evolved that would work out a system where a field or a number of fields would be inspected, and the grower told to grow flax in a particular part and that he would get the bounty on the produce. It is very hard, in practice, to produce a satisfactory instrument that would deal with all these things. Considering everything, perhaps, the machinery here is the best that could be evolved at the moment. I hope at any rate it will do something to revive the growing of flax that has been falling off in the last few years.

This Bill has been welcomed by all sides of the House. I would like to say at the start that the demand for this Bill came, in the first instance, from West Cork Deputies who realised the necessity for the flax industry in West Cork and who brought that matter forward here in this House. Now it is to be confined apparently to Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal. Anything else, of course, they could grab for the North they would grab, though they have grabbed enough already from the South and particularly from Cork. We have heard the learned Deputy McMenamin on the subject, and we must all pay a tribute to the extent of his knowledge of farming, and Deputies like Deputy O'Donovan and Deputy Hales must, of course, bow to his knowledge on that subject. He says flax cannot be grown in bad land. But what is the use of giving licences to Donegal to grow flax if it cannot be grown on bad land? They have nothing but bad land up there. The way I look at the matter is this: The growing of flax gives an outlet to farmers on poorer land who cannot get the benefit of other Government schemes such as beet and wheat growing. It gives them an opening and a market for the crop they grow. I think if the Minister is making provision for particular areas in this matter he should confine it to areas where wheat and beet are not grown extensively. In that way he would be providing for farmers in the poorer districts. I cannot see for the life of me why West Cork, portions of North Cork and portions of my own constituency should not be included in that area.

We have a tradition of flax-growing in West Cork. The old scutch mills are there; the knowledge and the training are there, and I cannot see how any occasion arises for confining flax-growing to the North. We are told about the skill needed. That skill will be found in West Cork, where they have grown flax extensively always. I give the Minister a friendly warning that if he attempts in this Bill to cut out West Cork, portion of North Cork and East Cork, then he is going definitely to bring Corkmen down on him. When it comes to what I consider a definite victimisation of districts that have the tradition for flax-growing, we in Cork, no matter what party or politics we have, will stick together. I think we could even claim the assistance of Deputy Cosgrave in this matter.

They do not grow any flax in Cork City.

No, but Cork City would benefit a little if flax was grown in West Cork. I cannot see any reason whatever for confining this area and cutting out an area with a life-long tradition for flax-growing. It is unfair and unjust and I cannot see any reason for it. There are other provisions in this Bill that I think are ridiculous also. I call attention to Section 4, where under paragraph (b) the Minister can bring down his long arm and say that flax cannot be grown in a particular area if he is not satisfied that flax had been grown on such land within 10 years of the passing of this Bill. Again, in paragraph (c) he can say that "having regard to the number of persons already in the register of flax-growing premises, it is not in the public interest that any other persons should be registered." He can say there are too many growing it at present. I am sure, in view of the appeal made this evening, the Minister would not like to find, when the Bill becomes law, that there has been any victimisation.

West Cork, generally, is an area where there is not much wheat or beet grown. It is a poor area and so is a large area of North Cork. In these circumstances, I am sure the Minister will see his way to extend the area he has in mind and bring West Cork within the scope of the Bill. I do not wish to go into the matter at present. I know practically nothing about flax, save that I have seen it growing. I bow to the knowledge of Deputies who have grown it themselves and worked it. From the knowledge I have, I realise the necessity for such a crop in West Cork—at any rate, for the poorer land where the farmers cannot get the benefit in other ways of the Government's policy. The Minister should include West Cork in the area covered by the Bill. The scutch mills are there, the tradition is there and the skilled workers are there.

My remarks will be very few, indeed. I must admit that I know very little about flax-culture—probably as little as the Minister for Agriculture or some of the other Deputies who spoke at great length here this evening. There are two things I do know: one is that before the Minister or I was born—I suppose I am slightly older than he is —flax was grown extensively in West Cork. At that time, flax-culture was looked upon as a sign of a broken-down farmer. That myth has been exploded and it has been proven that flax may be grown on good or bad land without exhausting the soil. There is another thing which I should like to say: there is not in this House a member who has a wider experience or a longer knowledge of flax-growing than Deputy O'Donovan, and his views ought to be hearkened to by the Minister for Agriculture. I join with Deputy Corry and the other County Cork Deputies in appealing to the Minister to include West Cork in the scheme for flax-growing. As Deputy Corry has said, that area has a long tradition of flax-culture. I hope that the appeals made to the Minister from different parts of the House will not fall on deaf ears but that they will be heeded.

Mr. Flynn

I am wondering whether there would be any chance of the Cork Deputies extending their sympathies and crossing over the border to Kerry, so as to make one appeal for the South. It is not very far from West Cork to a sector in Kerry where you have practically the same conditions. When I say "the same conditions" I mean the same type of land and the same outlook on the part of the small farmers. I might mention that flax was grown fairly extensively in Kerry—particularly South Kerry— during the war. The British Government, during that period, encouraged flax-growing and made it possible, by giving bounties, to have the crop grown successfully. Much has been made of the fact that in West Cork and parts of Ulster there is a tradition behind the industry and that, because of that, the Government should give facilities to these counties and to these counties only. If we were to proceed on that plane of thought, we might as well say that we would not encourage in any county any crop for which there was no tradition in that county. In that way, the people of a number of counties would be excluded from experiments and new schemes, and would be prevented from improving their conditions.

If this Bill is intended to restrict the flax-growing scheme to certain counties, I submit that, in so far as the small farmers of Kerry and other counties like Kerry are concerned, the principle is wrong. I think that these areas should be given a place in the Bill. The question of making the crop economic will be the all-important matter at the outset. In parts of our county, which is largely a congested county, flax can be grown successfully and, if any difficulty should arise regarding mills, there could be a grouping arrangement between the West Cork areas and the Kerry areas. If certain areas in Kerry were to get the benefit of the provisions of this Bill, one mill in Mallow or some part of West Cork could be made to serve the purposes both of Kerry and of the Cork areas in which flax would be grown and, eventually, the industry would be an economic proposition. Benefit would be derived from the scheme by small farmers who, as Deputy O'Donovan and Deputy Hales pointed out, cannot avail of the wheat scheme. I appeal to the Minister to bring within the provisions of this measure certain areas in Kerry which he can decide upon.

Deputy O'Donovan made a case which should be considered and considered very carefully. I am a northerner and was reared in a district where flax was grown on a most extensive scale during the War, and I believe, with Deputy O'Donovan, that there is going to be a demand for flax. Of that there is no doubt. I agree with Deputy McMenamin that that demand for flax will hardly last more than two or three years, if it lasts so long. But there is going to be a demand. I am opposed to the idea of circumscribing the area in connection with any crop. Somehow, I believe that that is wrong in principle. There will be money made as a result of this boom, and I believe that it is fundamentally wrong to circumscribe the area. Leave the matter to the farmers themselves and let them take the risk of growing the crop. I was down in South Laoighis recently. I do not know if Deputy Davin knows the persons to whom I propose to refer, but there are two or three big farmers there who come from the North. They approached me about the growing of flax. They did that even last year, but I was not going to take the responsibility of advising men on that particular subject on my own. I put them in touch with one of the largest flax growers in County Antrim, and he very courteously wrote and told them that he believed there was going to be a demand for flax. Naturally enough these people will lean towards growing flax this year. Apart from this consideration I do not know what genius inspired the Department to circumscribe the areas for growing flax. I do not agree with that.

More power to your elbow!

I believe the people in Cork or Meath or Tipperary if they are going to take the risk of growing a crop of flax are entitled to take that risk without any Government interference, and for that reason I appeal to the Minister—who, as Deputy Corry said, is a Minister that we can appeal to—to look at this matter sympathetically, and to say that there is no necessity for circumscribing the areas. I ask the Minister to consider that aspect of the matter carefully, especially after the well thought out speech delivered by Deputy O'Donovan.

Dr. Ryan

On the whole the discussion on this question has been very helpful. There were a few points raised which might be usefully considered on the Committee Stage with a view to improving the Bill in the direction suggested. Deputy O'Donovan referred to the areas mentioned in the Bill, and a good many other speakers followed on the same lines. I have not got the figures now, but I know fairly well the average amount of flax grown over ten years in the different counties. The amount grown in Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan was, comparatively speaking, very large. In West Cork, Mayo and on the border of Sligo about 30 acres was the average for the past ten years, and it would be under that amount in the other counties. At the beginning I stated that this year I did not intend to apply the provisions of the Bill outside the three counties in Ulster. Wherever applied, the Bill will not now make the slightest difference with regard to the amount of flax grown. As Deputy O'Donovan pointed out growers have already decided what they are going to do, so that whether the Bill applies to West Cork or not, it will not now make the slightest difference in such an area. The Bill does not want any amendment in that respect. I am prepared to consider whether it is possible to apply the provisions of the Bill to a district like West Cork, where there is a working scutch mill and where farmers have been continually growing flax for a number of years. To give an idea of the relative unimportance in this respect of West Cork, Mayo, and other places, the three counties mentioned grew more than 99 per cent. of the flax in the Free State, so that there was only 1 per cent. between the other places.

There was none worth speaking of in West Cork for some time.

Dr. Ryan

The appeal that was so strongly made by Deputy O'Donovan, and so strongly supported from all sides was one that could not be ignored. I must see what can be done about it. The Deputy stated that he did not like the idea of paying by weight. Undoubtedly that has advantages, but I had in mind the very grave disadvantage of paying on acreage, as is the case in the beet scheme, because there would be interminable disputes about acreage. A farmer might claim that he was guaranteed three acres, but an inspector might say that it was quite obvious three and a half or four acres had been grown so that disputes would be going on all the time. I think the weight basis is the more satisfactory one as it would eliminate all disputes. If a farmer has a higher yield than we take as the average and, say, that he is guaranteed for two thirds of the crop, for the other one third he gets whatever is the prevailing price without the guarantee. At any rate he does not suffer a great loss because he has a high yield, and therefore would not suffer as much in case prices collapsed as the farmer who had a low yield but who came under the full guarantee. Deputy O'Donovan wanted to know what yield we were going to take. I cannot say. I am trying to get figures of the calculated average yield for a few years. We may take these figures or possibly we may take higher ones. If the Executive Council guaranteed a certain amount and if the quantity grown was less than anticipated, then we might say that we would be able to deal with a yield of 50 stones to the acre.

In deciding the yield I would like the Minister to have regard to the new varieties.

Dr. Ryan

Deputy McMenamin and Deputy O'Donovan referred to the difficulty of storing flax in the scutch mills until an inspector called. That is a very important point and will require further consideration. In any case we intended that an inspector would call frequently in order to have the flax cleared. I cannot see how we can avoid that. After all, the flax must be inspected to see if the grower has the quantity, and secondly as to value, and that would appear to be the place for that. It would be very difficult for an inspector to call on all the growers. In fact, it would be almost impossible to make an inspection on that basis. I am afraid we must insist on having that done at the scutch mills. Obviously, it requires the closest investigation before we decide on anything definite. Deputy O'Donovan also dealt with the question of the standard price. He looks at the problem in a different way from that in which I looked at it from the beginning. The Deputy said that it would be better to fix a standard price about the 1st of October when it was known how the market was going. I did not look at it in that way. I say that if the prospect looks good for growing flax, and if farmers are told that they ought to take the risk as they might get a good price, I guarantee that they will get this much. Looking at the matter from that point of view a standard price must be fixed before sowing. Deputy O'Donovan takes a different point of view. I think the guarantee we are giving is better for the farmers and let them take their chance. Some have been taking a chance for years. Some have been a little timid, but with the guarantee we are giving I think they will sow and take the risk.

With regard to the spinning and weaving industry, although this is not a question for my Department, still it is a most desirable industry if it is feasible to have it. It is generally stated by those with whom I had conversations about this industry that it is highly capitalised, requiring large capital and large output to keep it going. That being the point of view, I do not think we are near the point where we can get the industry going. All we can do is to hope that it may be possible to do so.

Would not General Textiles be better employed in doing that than spinning cotton?

Hear, hear!

Dr. Ryan

It is a big question. Deputy Dillon asked if valuation will take place before or after scutching. I think it is definitely stated in Section 16 (2) that it is scutched flax that is inspected and valued. It is after scutching that the valuation takes place. There may be the point that a farmer grows good flax but that it is not as good as it should be after the scutching. After all, that is, I suppose, a further inducement to the farmer to select the best possible scutch mills for his flax. I have taken power in this Bill to direct a person to go to another scutch mill to that which he has chosen himself. In the first place, he may have chosen a scutch mill which is not registered at all. Obviously in that case we shall write back to him, tell him that it is not registered and that he had better go to somebody else. In case we find that a very large number of growers are selecting the same scutch mill, power is taken to take a block of them away who live near another scutch mill and say to them "You must go to this scutch mill because the one you have chosen is overworked." We took the same power under the Tobacco Bill to divert tobacco growers from the rehandling station they had chosen to another rehandling station, but we never found any necessity to use these powers. The same applies in the case of flax-growers. If there is not any great rush on a scutch mill, it may not be necessary to exercise these powers.

Does the Minister not recognise the unfairness of compelling a grower to go to a certain scutch mill if he thinks that his flax is not as well treated in that mill as in the mill which he has chosen himself?

Dr. Ryan

There may be something in that, but I think it is extremely unlikely that the power to direct a person to go to another mill will be used to any extent, if at all. I should not like to express an opinion on the prospect regarding the price of flax. I think that can only be done by a person who has views with regard to international complications. All we can say is that the trade papers appear to indicate that there will be a fair price for flax for the next few years and we are just, as I say, advising farmers to take the risk to grow more flax and that we shall guarantee them against any great loss.

It may be that flax-growing ceases to be attractive at 8/- per stone. That may be argued, but I do not intend to argue because it is not on the basis of its being profitable that the price is fixed. It is fixed on the basis of preventing a farmer from suffering a great loss if there is a collapse in prices. I think we would all agree with Deputy McMenamin that it would be a very bad thing for the impression to get out that we here in the Dáil are advising farmers that flax is going to be a paying crop for generations to come. Nobody has any intention of saying that. Of course, in a way, there is no great danger involved, because we are not putting any capital expenditure on farmers who are going in for flax. We are only advising them to turn to the flax crop in preference to some other crop but, if there was any big capital commitment involved, it would be a very dangerous advice to give because nobody knows how flax will go in the future. All we say is that it looks likely to fetch a good price for this year and perhaps the next year. Deputy McMenamin said that the flax growers in Donegal had incurred huge losses after the war, because they continued to grow flax for two or three years in face of a continuous loss. He said that during the three years after the war they had lost any profits that they had made in the crop during the war. That means that they continued to grow the crop in face of a loss for three years in succession. Under this Bill it is quite open to the Executive Council to fix a very low price for flax if things looked bad. They may fix a very low standard price and in that way try to induce farmers to cease the growing of flax should the conditions not warrant it.

Deputy McMenamin said that he intends to bring forward amendments to some of the sections. That is a matter which I need not deal with now as it can be dealt with more suitably on the Committee Stage. On the question of inspectors, I agree that they should be as expert as possible. I agree that an expert is a person who is perfect in his business, that is, as perfect as anyone can hope to be. They must be as expert in the business as possible and in all probability they will be drawn from our existing staff of inspectors, from men who had been engaged in connection with flax production heretofore. Probably four or five will be the most that will be required.

That is welcome news.

Dr. Ryan

I think there are two who have been already engaged as flax instructors. The others will be drawn from the general staff and may have to be replaced as permanent inspectors.

Surely you are not going to create new inspectors?

Dr. Ryan

They may have to be replaced by one or two.

Let us sincerely hope that will not be necessary.

Dr. Ryan

Certain questions were put to me in regard to the clause under which I have power to reject an applicant for the reason that he had not grown flax over ten years. I think that Deputies will agree that that is a useful power. If, for instance, we get applications to grow three times the quantity that we are willing to guarantee, would it not be well to have power to say that those who have been growing flax for the last ten years should have first preference? We shall give the guarantee to them first and if they exhaust the amount that we are willing to guarantee, then we cannot guarantee flax grown by new growers. It is for that purpose the clause is inserted, in order that existing growers should have a preference in the matter of this guarantee. On the other hand, if between the existing growers and the new growers, we get no more applications than will supply the total quantity, we are prepared to guarantee the lot. Deputy McMenamin was also mistaken in saying that the flax-grower is confined to his own land. That is not so. In Section 5 (3) the Deputy will see that the grower of flax on land not owned by himself is provided for.

There was also the point made by Deputy McMenamin that a flax-grower who grows good and bad flax may bring in his bad flax for the guarantee and sell his good flax otherwise and that he would in that way do a certain amount of injury to the whole scheme. He does not reap any individual advantage by doing that because all he can do is to lower the general average price for the Free State. Anybody can see that that would be very little taking the full quantity. He is of course paid the difference between the standard price and the average price. Whether he is selling good or bad flax he will get the same on each stone of flax. There was some objection to circumscribing the area by Deputy Donnelly and other Deputies. I think again it is well to have power to say that we should allow flax to be grown only in a certain area and that we shall give that area first preference. If we find that sufficient flax has not been grown in the three counties named we may add on West Cork and other places. If we do not get the full amount which we are prepared to guarantee grown within that area, then we may say that everybody is free to grow flax all over the country in order to obtain the quantity we are prepared to guarantee. We get the prescribed areas first. I think these were the only points that were raised in the debate.

Would the Minister say if he has a definite amount in mind in respect of which he is prepared to give a guarantee?

Dr. Ryan

That, of course, is a matter that I will have to put before the Executive Council. I think I can say that we are prepared to guarantee all that is grown this year. There will not be any difficulty about that.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 5th May.