They would. At least, they would under Fianna Fáil; I do not know what it would be now.
They were going to finance the scheme by increasing the stamp to 5/-from what it is at the moment and all they would need to raise from taxation —£2,000,000 according to the estimate —would be taken off the very wealthy. That is a fairly popular sort of statement to make, that nothing would be taken off anybody but the very wealthy; but what happened during the past 12 months? The Minister came in here with a Bill to increase old age pensions to 17/6—not 25/- or 30/—at age 70—not 65, which was in the Labour programme—and with a means test which, of course, in the Labour programme was going to be abolished. With all these things he comes along and gives this very small increase, compared with what was promised, to old age pensioners. How did they finance it? Did they take it off the very wealthy? No, they took £500,000 off the Widows' and Orphans' Fund. When they were out in the open and able to make whatever statements they liked to the Government as to how they would finance their schemes, they were going to take everything off the very wealthy, but when the Minister goes into the Coalition Government he leaves the wealthy alone and takes the money off the widows. That is the fulfilment of the Labour Party's programme for social welfare. Now the Minister says, and said to-day, that the scheme will be ready in another two months' time. We are to listen to stories of postponement from one period to another for I do not know how long. I will be very interested to see if the Minister can bring in the Labour Party scheme that was published three or four years ago giving the benefits and costing the taxpayers and contributors the same as was set out in that scheme at that time. It appears to me to be a rather impossible thing to do.
Leaving the Minister to tell us when this comprehensive scheme will be produced, I want to refer to the Minister for Agriculture. The Minister for Agriculture when he took office had, we all know, a set mind on certain things, that is, as far as the Minister for Agriculture can have a mind set on anything, because I think we have found from experience during the past 12 months that he was liable to change from time to time. He had prejudices rather than a set mind. He was prejudiced, for instance, against wheat growing and beet and so on; and his prejudice against wheat got him into a great deal of difficulty. After going into office, he issued a couple of advertisements and one of them advised the people to grow oats. Here in this very big advertisement which appeared on the papers at the time he tells you the advantages of growing oats, its value as a human food, and so on, and he says—this is the point we want to watch—that oats not required on the farm commands remunerative prices. That phrase, I think, has caused more hardship in this country to the farmers than has been caused to them for many a long year. Then this famous advertisement, on which we have not been able to get very much elucidation—"How Farmers Can Help"—appeared and he says in ending up his advice to farmers to grow oats, barley and potatoes—he did not mention wheat in any of the advertisements—"I believe that co-operation works better than compulsion." Why he put that into the advertisement I do not know. "I believe that co-operation works better than compulsion." Then he says: "Let us show them." I do not know who "us" are or who "they" are, but he said "Let us show them", and it was signed James M. Dillon, Minister for Agriculture, and it was paid for by the State. It was the first time, I believe, since this State was set up that a Minister for Agriculture had put his own name to his own propaganda and got the State to pay for it. It has been changed since; a lot of changes have been made since then.
At any rate, that advertisement was issued advising farmers to grow oats, barley and potatoes—no mention of wheat. The result was that a lot of foolish farmers evidently took the Minister's advice and we got about 50,000 acres more under oats than in the previous year. It was a very good crop, but there was no market for it. Then the trouble started. When the oats were harvested the farmers could get no market for the oats. The Minister for Agriculture was appealed to to do something about the crop, to try to create a market, to try to fix a price, to try to take the oats off the farmers' hands. But he remained adamant. On several occasions he said that he would not fix a price for oats. Then he gave certain advice to the farmers, such as to feed it to their pigs, to put it in stacks and thatch it until the spring, and various other things of that kind, but he refused absolutely to agree to make any provision for the disposal of the oats. As those of us who come from rural constituencies know, oats were sold at 20/- or 22/- per barrel, or 1/6 per stone.
Then the Minister went to America. What was more important, however, there was a by-election in Donegal and the Government made up their minds that something must be done. The Minister for Defence, who was acting for the Minister for Agriculture, announced in the Dáil on 25th November, in reply to a question from Deputy Cogan, that buyers would be appointed to take the oats at a fixed price. My colleague, Deputy Allen, who sensed a certain danger in the scheme, put a supplementary question. He asked whether every merchant who purchased oats last year would be permitted to take part in the scheme, and the Minister in charge said that every reputable merchant would be put on the panel. We know how their reputableness was assessed afterwards. That is the history of the growing of oats last year. We shall see as we go on what happened.
One of the things, probably, that acted as a deterrent to merchants that time in the buying of oats, was an announcement of the Minister for Agriculture which he made to the Mayo County Committee of Agriculture on 24th October, that maize meal would be available in the new year at about £1 per cwt. He emphasised the point that the maize meal would be the same price in Mayo and Dublin. That certainly acted as a deterrent on the buying of oats. It would have been good news if it had been true. But, as we shall find, it was not true either. When the scheme came along for the buying of oats at a certain price, much of the oats had, of course, been sold. If a farmer was embarrassed financially or had not storage facilities, he had to get rid of the oats, and the oats were got rid of at a much lower price. There was no way out of that for the farmer; he had to put up with his loss. Then, again, a lot of the oats in the country was below the bushel weight fixed under the scheme. It was fairly good oats, but not top quality, because the standard was put very high, and what was known as black oats did not come under the scheme. All that oats failed to find a market. What was worse, the announcement about the maize, which had such a bad effect on the oats position, did not prove to be true. Maize meal, in the new year, was retailed to the farmers at 24/6 or 25/- a cwt., not £1. That was the history of the oats.
A Deputy who, perhaps, does not know much about the country districts might say to me: "What should he have done?" What he should have done was pointed out that wheat was the crop which had a guaranteed price and a guaranteed market. But, as I said, the Minister for Agriculture had a very strong prejudice against wheat. I am sure Deputies who were in the House at the time will remember that the Minister on more than one occasion said that wheat growing was all a cod. On one occasion he said that he would not be got dead in a field of wheat—I suppose if he could avoid it. These were the expressions he was using about wheat. When he took office he allowed the prejudice which he had against wheat growing to influence him in advising farmers to grow oats, barley and potatoes and to change over from wheat as far as possible. What was the result? The result was that we had an increase of 50,000 acres of oats and a decrease of 50,000 acres of wheat. The acreage of wheat was down, but it turned out to be a good crop, as all crops did last year. There was an assured market for the wheat and there was a fixed price, and farmers who grew wheat were reasonably satisfied, as satisfied as farmers are as a rule. They were reasonably satisfied with the price and they got rid of the wheat.
Another point we should remember is this. Leaving the farmer out of it, every barrel of wheat we produce here saves dollars, because when we had our own wheat it was not necessary to bring in wheat from the United States or Canada, and in that way we saved dollars. Let us take even a fairly low yield of wheat, say, six barrels. That would mean that every acre of wheat produced here would save about 12 dollars to the country. If you take the 50,000 acres that the Minister was responsible for diverting from wheat to oats, it meant about 3,500,000 dollars loss to the country under the Marshall Plan or whatever plan you like. Therefore, we had that loss in dollars to the country as well as the great loss that the farmers suffered.
I am glad to see that it is not impossible to teach the Minister. He did learn his lesson, but he learned it at enormous expense to this country. He set out with that prejudice against wheat and said we all ought to grow oats, barley, potatoes, and so on. He got a number of farmers to agree with him and caused huge losses to the farmers and a great deal of worry. But he has learned his lesson and now we find that in this year 1949 we have an advertisement issued which is reminiscent of the advertisements issued in the Department of Agriculture for the past 15 or 16 years, the same type of advertisement as was issued from 1933 to 1947, inclusive. The Minister has learned that that was the proper type of advertisement, but has learned it at great expense to this country.
Now, what does he say this year? "Farmers who want a cash crop should sow wheat or malting barley; there is an unlimited market for wheat at 62/6 a barrel for top quality." That is the thing that should be pointed out to the farmer. That is the truth. The farmer can see that there is an unlimited market for wheat and a fixed price, and he is told here that it is the only cash crop that he can be sure of. Is it not a great pity that that was not done last year? Was it not at enormous expense that we educated the Minister for Agriculture over the last 12 months? We brought him, at any rate, to see that the advertisements, issued by the Department for 15 years under Fianna Fáil were sensible advertisements for the farmers. He issued these to all the weekly papers, including theTimes Pictorial. I wonder how many farmers read that production. At any rate, they are getting the advertisement.
There is another change. Instead of this offensive advertisement of 1948: "Let us show them—James M. Dillon, Minister for Agriculture." which meant putting his name under offensive propaganda of that kind, we have gone back to decency again and we have an advertisement issued from the Department. There is no insult to any Party in it; it is an appeal to the farmers to grow more wheat and it is a sensible appeal. Farmers, if they grow more wheat, have an assured market and the wheat will be sold at a fixed price, and for every barrel of wheat we produce we will save dollars for wheat coming in.
Then there was potatoes in this "Let us show them" advertisement. We were asked to grow more potatoes. The acreage was not increased very much, as a matter of fact, but only very slightly. When the Ministers came from London after making their agreement, we were told by the Minister for Agriculture that under this agreement the farmer had an assured market for all the produce of his farm at a remunerative price. I remember saying to the Minister for Agriculture: "But you said in another part of your speech that you were not too satisfied with the price of potatoes." He said: "That is true, it is not a very attractive price, but it will put a bottom to the market, £10 16s. 0d. a ton, and to that extent it is not so bad." Well, we went on with our crop and it turned out to be a good crop and we had a very big surplus of potatoes. When the people went to market them there was no market, or at least no remunerative market for them. Many people sold potatoes at £5 or £6 a ton, and this remunerative market which was to take all the farmers' potatoes, as far as we could see, disappeared. It was months and months after people had commenced selling their potatoes that an announcement was made that the surplus potatoes would be taken at, I think, £8 5s. 0d., delivered to the store or railway station by the farmer. That was for the best potatoes, good ware potatoes, of course. The promise that was held out from this agreement made with Great Britain did not materialise and we got nothing like £10 16s. 0d. In fact we got £8 5s. 0d. for some and less than that for most of them, as a good lot had been sold, and even still a lot of potatoes are sold in the towns and cities by farmers at less than £8 5s. 0d. a ton. I do not know what the consumer is paying for them. A lot cannot be sold at all.
There was a little crop I was very interested in. I do not want to make any pronouncement about it now, but I would like to get some information. It is the production of root seeds— mangolds, turnips and so on. The Minister at one stage announced that the contracts would be cancelled in that particular scheme, but since then he has sent a letter to the growers in County Wexford—I do not know whether it went to other growers or not —telling them it was quite safe to go along making their arrangements; but as far as I know no official or public announcement has been made and I would like to know how things stand.
Then we have the question of flax. I do not know much about flax except in an official way, when I had to deal with it as Minister for Agriculture. At one stage in the 30's, I brought in a Bill to guarantee a minimum price. It was very low at the time, but it gave some assurance to growers that they would get some market at a price. Even if it was fairly low, it was some guarantee and it had the effect of saving the flax industry over a small area during those years, until the war and the emergency came and flax became popular again. I do not know what view the Minister takes of flax, but one of the first things he did on going into office was to remove the control on the price for scutching. When I was Minister for Agriculture, I found it necessary to fix a price for scutching, as there was so much controversy and disagreement between the farmer and the scutcher and it was necessary to do something of that kind. The price fixing was continued by my successor, Deputy Smith, but when the present Minister went in he removed that—in his anxiety for freedom.
However, when he met his constituents in County Monaghan a few weeks later, he came back and put the control on again, so his anxiety for freedom was not strong enough to overcome the prejudice of the farmers in County Monaghan. Now, he told us here one day lately of his negotiations with the flax spinners of the North of Ireland in regard to the disposal of the crop in the Twenty-Six Counties to those spinners.
He told us that the first offer they made to him was 31/3 per stone for grade 5 flax of a maximum 4,000 tons. Now, 4,000 tons were quite sufficient: we would never exceed that, I think, under any estimate; so that part of it was quite all right. The Minister thought that 31/3 was too low and he refused to agree. After some months, they came back and said they would give 32/- on 2,000 tons. That was worse, in this way, that, as producers know, you cannot very well estimate exactly what the production is going to be and it is a bad thing to be limited in quantity. It would be better to take a little lower price and to have a guaranteed market for the entire product. From that point of view, the 32/- for 2,000 tons was worse than the 31/3 for 4,000 tons. The Minister again refused.
The Minister is to blame in two ways. First, he did not consult the flax growers to find out what their views were with regard to the marketing of flax and the price. Secondly, he tried to confuse the issue, in this House at any rate, to this extent, that where the Six County growers were getting 40/-a stone for their flax, the Northern Government were giving 7/4 by way of subsidy out of that 40/-, so that, as far as the flax millers were concerned, they were paying the Northern growers 32/8, and I think any reasonable person would say that the Minister could not expect people who were living by commerce, like these millers in the North of Ireland, to pay more for flax here than they were paying in the Six Counties. If the Minister thought that anything more than 32/-should be given, he should have gone to his Government and got his Government to give a subsidy to make up the difference between that 32/- and what he considered a remunerative price, just as the Northern Government were giving a subsidy to the Six County growers.
There was no use in trying to confuse the issue as the Minister did in this House by saying that the Northern grower was getting 40/-; he was getting more than he got last year, which was something like 34/6; and our growers were expected to take less. That was confusing the issue, because, as far as the Northern spinner was concerned, he was giving almost as much here as he was giving in the Six Counties. I would say that the Minister would be justified in saying: "You must give me the same as you give the Northern grower," but he would not be justified in saying: "Give me also something against the subsidy you are getting in the North of Ireland for what is grown in the Six Counties."
In these two respects I would say the Minister was to blame and the result was that the growers, when they saw that negotiations had broken down between the Northern spinners and the Minister who was negotiating on their behalf, stepped in and accepted what was a worse settlement, that is, 28/-per stone for grade 5 flax, for 3,000 tons, instead of the first offer of 31/3. What does that amount to? I would find it hard to say that the Minister should have accepted the first offer because, in weighing up the position, he probably had come to the conclusion that they were trying to use him against the Northern growers in order to bring down the price on both sides of the Border but he should not have so lightly, as it appeared, thrown over the whole thing and told the flax growers in the Twenty-Six Counties to turn over to something else. He should have consulted them and he should have done something about it. He should not have thrown it to the wolves and let them negotiate for themselves with the result that they are now accepting on a good crop of flax—100 stones to the Irish acre—£15 an acre less than the Minister could have got for them last November. On an average, poorish crop, they are accepting about £6 less per acre. That shows you how these men have been treated between the various interests concerned.
But, the Minister is learning a lesson. He is learning by these various blunders and mistakes. When these flax negotiations had failed an announcement was made in the Press on the 4th March, 1949, that anyone who wished to grow flax for sale on the terms proposed, that is, 32/- per stone for grade 5, dam-retted, hand-scutched flax, was, of course, perfectly free to do so and take his chance of being able to sell it after the harvest, but if anyone did so he did it at his own risk and in the full knowledge that the Department of Agriculture did not recommend it and could give no assurance whatever of a satisfactory market for it. I say the Minister is learning. What a pity the Minister did not talk like that this time last year about oats and potatoes. If, this time last year, he had said about oats and potatoes that the Department would like to see farmers growing oats and potatoes but could give no guarantee of a market or a price, that they could grow it at their own risk, then nobody could say a word against the Minister for Agriculture. Nobody could blame him, even if there was no market for potatoes or oats when the harvest came, because he would have given his warning and the farmer would have grown them at his own risk. What he has been blamed for is that he advised the farmer to grow potatoes, oats and so on, that there would be a remunerative market for the produce that was not used on the farm, and that when the harvest came the remunerative market could not be found.
Now he is getting over-cautious as you may read from that statement. He advises the farmer that if he grows flax the Department will have no responsibility whatever, that he can grow the flax at his own risk. That shows that the Minister is learning. It is rather an expensive education, particularly for the flax growers. If they grow 3,000 acres of flax at, let us say, an average of £10 or £12 per acre, they will lose £20,000, £30,000 or £40,000 this year on educating the Minister, and those who grew oats and potatoes last year lost several thousand pounds. It must be one of the most expensive educations that have taken place in this country for a long time.
As we know, the Minister has many things to deal with in the Department of Agriculture in addition to crops. There is milk, for instance. All through the summer and into the autumn of 1948 the Minister on several occasions told milk producers that he would not increase the price of milk. For instance, he made a very specific reply to a deputation at Rathluirc on the 30th October that he had no intention of increasing the price of milk. A deputation of Munster dairy farmers came to see him a day or two before Christmas. They made their case and the Minister said he would reopen the whole question, that he was sure any recommendations he would make would be favourably considered by the Government.
"He was sure any recommendation he would make would be favourably considered by the Government."
These are words taken from theIrish Independent. Anybody who has had experience of being a Minister knows well that a Minister would never say a thing like that to a deputation unless he intended to make favourable representations. If a Minister had no intention of recommending a proposal he would end the discussion by saying that he could not see the case and could not make a convincing case to the Government, or something to that effect. He would not hold out any hope unless he was sure that he had a good case to put to the Government, and that he had a good chance of succeeding. The Minister said that he was quite sure that if he made a good case the Government would favourably consider it. Now, he did one of two things. Either he made a good case to the Government and it was turned down or he did not make any case at all to the Government, and the price of milk remains the same as that fixed by the Fianna Fáil Government early in 1947.