This is the section which increases the amount the ACC can borrow. I hope I am in order on this section in expressing my grave concern at the situation which the Minister touched on a few moments ago in response to my question on the Second Stage. It is a matter of serious concern if the deposits from the general public in the ACC are going down rather than going up. To the best of my knowledge up to March of this year there was a very substantial buoyancy and rate of increase in the deposits in the ACC.
It appears now from what the Minister has said, although he did not have precise figures, that that position is reversed and that the rate of deposits in the ACC since March is going down. This is an extremely serious position particularly in agriculture. On the Second Stage we dwelt on the vital importance of agriculture in our economy especially in these times and if there is any suggestion of a lack of confidence in the future of agriculture it could have very serious consequences.
The Minister did say on the Second Stage in a somewhat different context, that there were many — I do not think he used the word gimmicky — different forms of investment available offering apparently very attractive rates which are not, in the long run, as reliable as an investment in the ACC. The Minister did suggest that this range of attractive, or apparently attractive, alternatives was operating to take from the ACC and similar institutions deposits which they might otherwise receive.
But while I would not like that position I think, if that is the position, things are not as bad as they might be. I doubt if that is the explanation. The Minister will recall that any such alternative attractions as are available now were available in the past, certainly in the last few years when the pattern of deposits with the ACC from the general public was increasing all the time. The Minister would be very unwise to accept that the reasons for the falling off in the deposits in the ACC were solely these alternative attractions which have been available in the past.
I know of the problems to be faced with rising interest rates but I would point out to the Minister that the problem of rising interest rates is not a new one and that it did not start last March. While people may think that the present interest rates are appallingly high it is conceivable, in certain circumstances, that they could go higher. In that event present interest rates would be relatively the same as last year's interest rates are to the present interest rates.
The Minister should look very closely at the reasons for the falling off of deposits in the ACC. As the Minister knows, not only in regard to the ACC but in regard to other bodies also for which he is responsible, the matter seems to be a serious one, and one which is becoming more serious. In this context in relation to agriculture it is ominous. The Minister should examine the position much more deeply than is indicated by the rather superficial explanation which he gave of attractive alternatives being available. It is incumbent on the Minister to make a more detailed examination of the problem. The Minister knows, as I do, that unless the deposits from the public are maintained at least at a reasonable level in a position where demand for credit is expanding at a greater rate than ever, it simply will not be possible for the Exchequer to bridge the gap if the gap becomes very large.
It is right that an effort should be made to bridge the gap. As the Minister has indicated, this is being done. The Minister knows, as I do, that there is a limit to the amount of money which the Exchequer can make available for this or any other purpose. Consequently, I urge the Minister to give extremely serious consideration to the underlying causes of the fall-off in deposits in the ACC. Perhaps he could do so in conjunction with the board of the ACC or with the other advisers available to him. The Minister should see whether there is any course open to him which would reverse this very ominous trend.