Agricultural Credit Bill, 1960: Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1.

In page 10, lines 13 to 15, to delete "in conacre or for the purposes of agistment or for temporary depasturage or meadowing", and to insert "for any term".

The amendment is to Section 9 and it arises out of a point raised by Deputy Sweetman. As the section stands, it appears to cover only lettings for one year and he thought that if there were a letting for more than one year, it would not be covered. I am informed by the Agricultural Credit Corporation that they have never come across a case where letting was for more than one year but we see no objection to covering lettings for more than that period and that is done by this amendment.

The facts are as the Minister has stated. I was interested to hear the Minister for Finance casually confirming that one never hears of a letting for more than one year. It is quite true that the practice has been that letting in conacre has been for an eleven months period. I have heard that stated in the House here and I have heard the Minister for Lands and, I think, others on the Government front benches say that there is some Land Act which makes it feasible to make lettings for a longer period than eleven months.

The old understanding in rural Ireland was that if you let conacre lands for more than eleven months, you gave a tenant a right and that the tenant, under some Land Act going back to the early part of this century, could apply to the Land Commission to have that land vested in him. The Minister for Lands and other Ministers have since stated that there has been an amending Land Act which removed that provision and that there is now no objection to a conacre letting of five or even ten years.

It has been argued strongly that this system of the eleven months letting ought to be abandoned altogether because it operates to injure land, inasmuch as a man who is only taking an eleven months letting will take everything he can take out of the land and then hand it back to the owner. If he were free to take a five or ten years letting, it would be worth his while to fertilise the land properly so that he could get his own return out of it.

If the Agricultural Credit Corporation have advised the Minister that they never heard of a letting for more than one year, that may have been the practice in the past, but I understand it is now the practice of the Department of Agriculture, where conacre lettings have to be made, as in the case of a widow with a young family who is not able to work the land herself but who wishes to keep it for the eldest son, that they make lettings, not for one year but for longer periods. There appears to be a point of contradiction between one Minister and another. I would gather from what the Minister has said that he subscribes to the proposal that these lettings should be for less than 12 months. I think it is the policy of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Lands to encourage people to make conacre lettings for longer than one year.

I have had experiences that back up what Deputy Dillon has just said. There is a whole race of young men, big farmers' sons and small farmers' sons, going through the country and taking land in conacre. They always endeavour, when they take a field, to get a three year letting at least. The letting itself is only for 11 months but the agreement is there between them that they can get the land for three years. In nearly every case, it is mutually agreed as to what manures are to be put down. This was not the case where a man was only going to put in a grain crop. He scratched it any way he could and did not do the best job of cleaning up when he was getting out. It has now become common for conacre lettings to be for a much longer period than one year, and two and three years lettings are very common.

Under the law as it is now, there is no danger in the case of a person letting his lands for three, four or five years of the tenant having the right to apply to the Land Commission to have the land vested in him. The matter arose because there were some proposals during the past three or four years to help farmers' sons to acquire holdings on easy terms. One of the suggestions made was that they become tenants for 15 or 20 years and then become the holders. There were various memoranda circulated at the time and I saw a good case being made for longer lettings. It was argued that in the one year letting, the person taking the land was inclined to take all he could out of it and that if he had a five year letting, he would be inclined to treat it well. I do not think that, although these ideas have been circulated, either the Minister for Lands or the Minister for Agriculture has decided on any definite policy on the matter.

Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

The powers of the Agricultural Credit Corporation are liberalised by this Bill to enable them to extend credit in a wider variety of circumstances than was the case here-tofore. They still have retained this limit of 50 per cent. of the value of the farmers' holdings. I think it is a mistake to retain it.

From 50 per cent?

They have retained it at 50 per cent.

It is not in the Bill. It will be in the Articles of Association.

I think they would have been wiser to leave themselves even greater leeway there. We have to face the fact that we are either going to trust the Agricultural Credit Corporation to do their work efficiently or else throw our hat at the whole thing. Artificial restrictions of that kind create anomalous situations. It seems to me to be a wholly absurd situation if the Agricultural Credit Corporation come across a case—and they may come across many—in which they say to themselves: "If we were free to advance up to 75 per cent. of the value of this chap's holding, we could really get him off to a flying start but, if this arbitrary limit of 50 per cent. is put upon us, all we are going to do is launch him on a long struggle in which he will be pulling the devil by the tail all his life and will really never get cracking at all." All that is involved is a matter of £2,000 or £3,000 but it may make the difference between failure and success. In my judgment, it is absurd to put the responsibility on the Agricultural Credit Corporation of making a viable loan and yet restricting them by a 50 per cent. ceiling, if in their considered judgment a higher percentage would make a loan truly viable and provide a young farmer with a chance of really going places.

Our great difficulty is to get farmers effectively to avail of credit. I know from my personal experience that if a farmer has a holding of land as small as 50 acres, with access to unlimited finance, he can get a comfortable living off so small a holding as that, if he has diversified production, on the one hand, or if he has very highly specialised production, on the other, but he can make a success of neither, if, at every hand's turn, he has to scrimp and save because capital is not available to him fully to exploit his project.

I am of opinion that if you go the length of effectively making available to him unlimited capital, you have to take precautions to ensure that he is competent (1) to use capital and (2) to carry out with maximum efficiency the day-to-day operation of the enterprise in which his capital is employed. There is no effective method of doing that in this country, except providing an adequate national agricultural advisory service.

It makes me sometimes despair when I am dealing even with farmers but mainly with Deputies of this House whose lives have been mainly spent in the eastern counties of Ireland. Their reaction is: "What will a parish agent be doing in Athy?" Of course, the answer is that where you are dealing with large farmers handling 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 acres of land, in the vast majority of cases, they have no need of agricultural advice at all, for the simple reason that they have ample capital to be-speak that advice for themselves if they want it, but if you transfer yourself to the real backbone of the agricultural community in this country, that is, the farm-owing small farmer who employs virtually no labour, and if you put unrestricted capital at his disposal, unless you match it with an adequate agricultural advisory service, you are really giving him a rope to hang himself. It is absolutely insane to give to a 40, 50 or 60 acre farmer who is running the place with himself and his family access to unlimited credit without adequate technical advice, because, in seven cases out of ten, he will go bust.

People argue that the existing advisory services are adequate for the purpose. They are not and we all know they are not, (1) because their personnel is too strictly limited, (2) because the direction is not dynamic, and (3) because they are so far divorced from the Department of Agriculture that they cannot be fully effective.

We now have splendidly trained personnel available in the country in the graduates of the schools of agriculture and from our universities and we have an excellent young agricultural research institute. We have thousands of small farmers throughout the west, north-west and south-west of this country the output of whose land would be doubled, if they had the technical assistance to get from their land what it is capable of producing. If we could realise that aim, we would provide a decent livelihood for thousands of small farmers who are at present sinking into poverty and as a result therefore are locking their doors and clearing out of the country.

It is only three weeks since I saw a young married man—I well remember the day he was married; he married a very nice girl who had a bit of money; and he was a hardworking, excellent chap—lock his door and take his wife and five children to Birmingham, for the simple reason that he could not live here. He had got caught between the rising cost of living for a large young family and the limited output of his farm and the bad prices he had been getting for the past two years. It is tragic and disastrous that that should be going on when it is perfectly possible for us to stop it. I would be enthusiastic for this liberalisation of agricultural credit, if I felt it was going to be brought effectively into the hands of those who really want it.

I am bound to say that where a man with 1,000 acres of land comes to me and says he has not adequate capital, I find it hard to be patient. If he has not adequate capital, why on earth does he not sell 300 acres of land and put the £25,000 or £30,000 he gets for it into adequately farming the remaining 700 acres. Would he not have plenty? And it is probably the wise thing for him to do instead of plunging into debt on which interest has to be paid.

When you come to the small farmer, an entirely different situation exists and it is so familiar to us who live amongst them that it is hard adequately to expound it in this House where so many people do not apprehend what you are talking about. There is a strong, deep rooted prejudice amongst small farmers against going into debt. The small farmers of Ireland have a horror of debt. There is the extraordinary anomaly in rural Ireland that a man will borrow money to deposit it in the bank. That is hard to believe but I have known such a man to borrow £15 to even up £285 he got for cattle so that he could deposit £300 in the bank. I have known such a man to seek a neighbour to go security for him in the bank to get money out rather than touch his deposit.

That may be irrational but it will take some time to educate that out of the people's minds. It is not such an utterly foolish prejudice as at a first glance it might seem. That is the nest egg against a rainy day. That is the nest egg which may one day be wanted for the dowry, the nest egg which gives a man a sense of comfortable security. They have a horror of going into debt and what we call credit, to them is debt. There is no doubt whatever they want to have it explained to them fully that credit profitably and providently employed is a good thing.

In addition to that deep prejudice against going into debt, they have a deeper prejudice against new procedures and methods. Many people are inclined to describe that as the inherent conservatism of the Irish farmer. That is all nonsense. They live so near the edge of poverty that they cannot afford to make a mistake. They have a deep conviction that if they carry on the way their fathers carried on, at the end of the year, they will be able to meet their bills. If you say to them: "Change that completely and you will be able not only to meet the bills but to increase your stock substantially," the reaction is: "That is all right but I would like to see somebody do it. I am not going to do it." They do not want to try because they do not want to be in the position that they cannot provide their wives and families with the modest amenities which their fathers and mothers provided when they were young.

There is no way of breaking that vicious circle except by locating an agricultural advisory officer in practically every rural parish to help these people to change their methods and to change their approach to the use of credit as a means of expanding their production. As I have told the House before, more than half the grass grown on my land today is preserved in the form of silage. We happened to have an agricultural advisory officer in our district who was prepared to advocate it. When the men working on the farm were reluctant to experiment in making it, he came down and made it himself. He said he would come back the day the pit was opened to demonstrate that its contents were eminently acceptable to the livestock on the farm. It might never have been made but the fact that he came and shared in its making and carried out his demonstration to the point of going down into the silage pit and making it with the men introduced a most beneficent revolution in the practice on that farm. Nothing short of that will achieve our purpose.

I was never more convinced of anything than I am of this—and I know as much about rural Ireland as most people in this country—we are in imminent danger of seeing a detestable social revolution in a large part of this country in which the tenant proprietors of the land will give up the struggle. I believe, if that should come to pass, the whole sheet anchor of our society will go. I think it was the Minister for Health who recently described that as "Mr. Dillon's pastoral Ballaghaderreen approach." I understand that. The Minister for Health was born and reared in Belfast and has lived all his life in Dublin and he knows as much about rural Ireland as a Baluba chief-tain in the Congo. It is just ignorance. He does not know what he is talking about but those of us who do know about rural Ireland realise the infinite value to our whole society of that vast army of property-owning small farmers living in dignity and security on their own holding. If they are driven off, we will have nothing left but a spurious industrial set-up which will be no substitute for our main industry which must be indissolubly associated with our principal natural resource which is the land.

That brings me back to the point I want to press upon the Government and the people, of whom I have much higher hopes than I have of the Government, that if we are to provide credit, it must be credit which will be providently and profitably employed. To do that, we must ensure that the small farmers have ready access to that credit, and, in measuring the quantity of credit they may require and in the use they subsequently make of it, they stand in just as much need of expert technical advice as does any industrial concern that may call in industrial consultants to help it in its day-to-day problems. The small farmers of Ireland have nowhere to look for that advice, except to the Department of Agriculture. It is the only place they will get it effectively, consistently and of a standard which will be of real value to them.

I know all the arguments about the difficulty of getting the personnel, about the difficulty of supervising it from the Department of Agriculture, but if you can associate the service with the parish, there is one very good check that can be made on the efficacy and efficiency of any agent, that is, simply to go and look at the parish for which he is responsible. If it is not going ahead, you say: "There is no progress here. It may be that you do not get on with the people or that the people do not get on with you. It may be that you cannot put over to those people what you are concerned to put over to them. The net result is that this parish is going down instead of going up. We will have to put you somewhere else and find somebody who can make this parish progress." All that will take time, trouble and unremitting zeal on the part of whoever is responsible in the Department of Agriculture, but it is the essential concomitant of any liberalisation of agricultural credit and the essential prerequisite of the economic survival of this country.

Deputy Dillon raised a question with regard to the limit to which the Agricultural Credit Corporation can give a loan as part of the value of a holding. He raised that point on Second Stage also. I had it conveyed to the Board of the Corporation for their consideration. It is a matter for them to decide, as I said. It is within their Articles of Association. They told me they are going to change their Articles of Association to permit of loans of 66-2/3rds per cent. instead of 50 per cent. I would certainly have no objection, if they raised it to 100 per cent. I have asked the Department to convey Deputy Dillon's arguments on the point to them for their consideration.

It is true, as Deputy Dillon has pointed out, that there are certain small farmers who are very loath to burden themselves with a loan. So far as my experience goes, the small farmers who make ends meet and struggle to make them meet, are afraid to go beyond their present capacity by borrowing more money. The man who does not make ends meet is more inclined to look for a loan, but he is not as good a type.

I also agree fully with Deputy Dillon that a loan can prove dangerous, unless the borrower has the knowledge to use the money profitably. Of course, that knowledge would naturally be got from technical advisers, but I am afraid I cannot go any further than that. I am not in a position to argue with the Deputy as to whether the present system of agricultural advice is the most efficient, or whether a departure from that system, as he advocates, would be preferable. I must leave that point to be raised by the Deputy on the Estimate for the Department of Agriculture where it can be discussed more profitably than it could be discussed on this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.