I beg to move the motion standing in my name:—
That the Seanad is of opinion that the scheme for encouraging the improvement of farms (season 1940-41) should be extended to rated occupiers of agricultural land, irrespective of poor law valuation, owned by persons who earn their living solely or mainly by farming.
As a good many of the industrial members of the Seanad may not be thoroughly conversant with the order referred to in the motion, I propose to read it:
"Scheme of grants for encouraging the improvement of farms, season 1940-41.
"The Minister for Agriculture is prepared to make grants for farm improvement works subject to the following conditions:—
"1. The scheme shall apply to all holdings having a poor law valuation on the agricultural land not exceeding £200 and owned by persons who earn their living solely or mainly by farming.
"2. Grants will be payable to rated occupiers for approved improvement works such as (a) field drainage, including improvement and cleaning of watercourses; (b) reclamation, including (i) drainage where necessary and (ii) removal of bushes, scrub, rocks and stones; (c) construction or improvement of fences; (d) improvement of farmyards (excluding buildings), and (e) improvement of farm roadways.
"3. Subject to the limitations mentioned hereafter and to the conditions of the scheme being fulfilled grants shall be equivalent to 50 per cent. of the approved estimated cost of the labour required for improvement works carried out in the season. The approved estimated shall not exceed twice the poor law valuation on the agricultural land, and if an applicant desires to proceed with work requiring a labour cost above that limit the additional labour cost must be borne wholly by himself. In the case of small holdings, however, where the poor law valuation on the agricultural land does not exceed £10, improvement works entailing an estimated labour value of not more than £20 may be approved."
This scheme, I think, has the approval of all parties. It is a constructive, common-sense proposal, and if the Minister will accept my amendment it will be a great boon to all farmers. It will help to relieve unemployment amongst agricultural labourers, and it will greatly increase the productivity of the land. I would like to ask the Minister why he limits the scheme to farms of less than £200 valuation? The prosperity of agriculture does not depend on any one section of the farming community. The farmer of high valuation in Leinster is essential to the prosperity of the small farmer in Connaught and the dairy farmer in Munster. Prosperity of the big farmer means prosperity for every section of the agricultural community, including more employment. For that reason I protest against the limitation which is proposed in this scheme, and I say it is invidious to discriminate between farmers, and that any scheme for the relief of agriculture should include all sections of farmers, and should include the agricultural labourers.
There are many schemes at present in existence for the relief of small farmers or farmers of low valuation. At the present time those farmers are practically derated. They can obtain grants for buildings. In many cases— of course, it does not come under the provisions—they can obtain employment on the roads for themselves and their families at good wages. There are county council schemes under which they can have their children paid for at secondary schools and universities. A good many of those things are paid for directly by the farmers, and the majority of them by the larger farmers who are excluded from the provisions of even those schemes. The big farmers did not complain of those schemes. In fact, they supported and approved them. I believe that a few years ago a big percentage of the farmers, whose case I am now advocating, would reject with scorn the proposals which I am now trying to get the Minister to accept. But times have changed. These big farmers, because of circumstances to which I am not going to allude, but which Senators can easily realise, are financially in a very bad way. The farmers who were the elite of our country are now, in many cases, reduced almost to the position of mendicants.
According to statistics, there are 374,000 rated occupiers of land in this country, and 269,000 are returned as farmers. I suppose that means people whose principal means of livelihood is farming. Of the 269,000, 217,000 are returned as giving no employment, and there are only 52,000 farmers returned as paying employed labour. The number of farmers which this scheme will exclude is less than 3,000. I say that those 3,000 farmers are the people who give most employment, and if the Minister includes them in the scheme it will mean work for perhaps 10,000 agricultural labourers in the slack times. I may point out that 126,400 agricultural labourers, or a good many of them, will be disemployed, particularly this winter, when there will be very little stall-feeding and very little work. To give employment to that number of persons would be of great assistance to the country and, to a certain extent, it will mean a saving of money. At any rate, it will be no loss because of the amount which would have to be given to them if they were on the dole or receiving money in some other form. For that reason I strongly urge the Minister to accept my proposals.
Members of the Government and many others make a great fuss about the bounties, subsidies and grants paid to the farmers, but if those people were honest they would include in their statements something to the effect that the farmers are themselves paying the biggest portion of the bounties, subsidies and grants. But bounties, subsidies and grants will not make agriculture prosperous. All that type of thing is only tinkering with the job. What is wanted more than anything else is working capital or credit, so as to enable farmers to increase production. There is no use in asking a farmer to improve his grass land if he has no money to buy stock to graze it. I saw in the Press recently two interesting statements from distinguished professors of economics. I would like, with the permission of the House, to quote extracts from those statements.