We have had a lot of time to think over the speeches that were made on this debate, which commenced on the 7th December. Senator Tunney must be gratified to have drawn such a long discussion and especially to have got Senator Duffy and Senator O'Reilly to engage in such research on the subject. They gave us very lengthy speeches, which included many quotations and figures, some from a congress of standing and others that I never heard of before, and they drew various conclusions. I agree with very few of them. I had an opportunity of reading the printed report of the debate which took place here on the 7th December last, and it struck me that Senator O'Reilly of Leitrim— I am sorry I do not know the initials——
Agricultural Industry: Wages; and Guaranteed Economic Prices for Produce—Motion (Resumed).
Senator Patrick J. O'Reilly.
——who made a speech which contained no quotations and very few figures, came to very sound conclusions drawing on his own observations and his own experience. I would commend that speech to any Senator who wants a sensible point of view of the question under discussion. I took a few notes from Senator Duffy's speech. The House will remember it was very lengthy. One thing he said, as far as I remember his words, was that in Great Britain, despite a decrease in the area under grass, they have succeeded in increasing the number of cattle during the war. There are people in this country —I did not know that Senator Duffy was one of them but apparently he is— who have a great regard for what they are able to do in other countries, and especially for what is being done by our powerful neighbour, and they do not go to the trouble of finding out whether or not we have done just as well, as we have in this particular case. Despite 1,000,000 acres less under grass in this country, we have increased our cattle during the war. Senator Duffy did not know that but he knew that England did it. I do not know whether that is the international outlook or not, but at any rate, it appears that there are certain people who are prepared to study what other nations have done and to come here and lecture us on what they have done and what we should do.
Before giving us a lecture like that again, let them at least find out whether or not we have done just as well here. We hear from time to time in this country, and we read from time to time in the daily papers of the splendid achievement of the British Government in their tillage programme. I have seen that mentioned in some of the daily papers; I have heard it pointed out by speakers in the other House—I do not remember it here—and I say that if we compare the percentage increase in tillage, or the percentage increase in output, we again, have done just as well as they have in Great Britain, or for that matter, I daresay we have done just as well as any other country.
We hear a great deal about Denmark, and undoubtedly Denmark has done very well. They have a very fine up-to-date system of agriculture in Denmark, and evidently the farmers work very hard there. Our farmers work hard also. The one mistake, in my opinion, that is always made by people who compare the Danish figures and the Irish figures is that they always quote the gross output; they never quote the net output, and it makes the greatest difference. You could have practically any output in a country if you bring in enough feeding stuffs and feed them to your animals and turn them out, but I think if our country does not bring in so much feeding-stuffs, if they engage more in the production of their own crops, feeding these crops to their own animals and selling these animals, and if they do comparatively well in that way, that is, in net output, then we should not be, as it were, put on a very low stool as compared with Denmark. Denmark, of course, would beat us even on that basis. I admit that they would beat us in net output, but it is the net output figure that should be taken when comparing the two countries.
We were invited by Senator Duffy last night to consider the enormous export of Denmark compared with ours. That does not impress me at all. I do not think exports are any criterion of the standard of living of a people. As a matter of fact, probably any country that could afford it would have less exports and would use more themselves. Therefore, if we are keeping more in this country, if, for instance, as I have often heard—I cannot vouch for it—we consume more butter here than they do in Denmark, then, if we are going to be lectured on the great position of the export market for Danish butter, I say that is one matter in respect of which I do not agree with the policy of the Danes, if they are exporting butter and leaving their own people less butter for themselves.
Years ago, when I was reading Irish history, I read that during the great famine here almost 100 years ago, there was a very prosperous export business from this country. Surely we do not want that sort of thing. Senator Duffy went on to deal with another matter. He quoted an economist to show that the amount sold off a small farm in some country—I do not remember where—was higher per acre than the amount sold per acre off a large farm. Again, I should like to know the full circumstances because I am very suspicious, if a small farmer is selling more per acre off his farm than a big farmer, that there is a certain amount of compulsion in it, that he has to sell in order to pay his way. It must be obvious that a small farmer who has a growing family will need a greater proportion of his output for his own family than, say, a farmer who has 100 acres. If it is a fact that in that particular place to which Senator Duffy referred—I did not get the name —the small farmer was actually selling more off his farm than a bigger farmer was off his farm, I should like to know if that small farmer had as good a table as the bigger farmer. The output per person in this country is higher off the big farm, but the yield per acre is higher off the small farm. These are two facts that I think Senator Duffy did not grasp exactly when he was quoting some other figures.
Another economist quoted by Senator Duffy calculated that before the war every person in this country, to have a proper standard of living, would need 10/- worth of food per week. That may be correct; probably it is. Senator Duffy then did a fairly simple calculation. He multiplied 10/- by 52 and said that that represented the value of the food that a person would need in a year. He then multiplied that by the number of people in the country and he got a sum of £60,000,000 odd. I am not saying that his arithmetic is not correct, but I am coming to the part I cannot understand. He said that our agricultural output was £61,000,000 and therefore, he said, we had not enough to feed ourselves. I think there is the greatest fallacy in that statement. Obviously the economist Senator Duffy quoted must have been aware that the person who is buying food for his family has to buy it at retail prices, but our output of agriculture is estimated at off-the-farm prices. In other words, Senator Duffy made no allowance for the difference between the price of 1 lb. of wheat and the price of 1 lb. of bread. He made no allowance for the difference between the price of the bullock selling at 5d. on the bone and the beefsteak selling at 1/10, which, of course, is all wrong. Senator Duffy should have kept that in mind.
Senator Duffy is pillorying the farmers for not turning out enough food to feed ourselves, and he proves that by quoting figures that are not comparable—the off-farm prices with the retail prices in the shops. I do not know whether any producer here has had the experience of bringing vegetables to the Dublin market. I had; I had such an experience that I gave it up. In my time I brought lettuce to the Dublin market. I got 3d. a dozen for it, and afterwards I saw my lettuce, or lettuce that was no better, selling at 3d. per head in the shop. Senator Duffy ignores these differences in his calculation.
Going back a little, I want to correct another point made by Senator Tunney. Senator Tunney said that beef was selling on the Dublin market at 5d. a lb. and that beefsteak was costing about 1/5 per lb. I think that in the first place Senator Tunney was talking of a second-class bullock when he spoke of 5d. per lb. Secondly, he was talking of 5d. per lb. as the price when the bullock walked over the scales. That second-class bullock when killed would only give a yield of 50 per cent. of its live weight. It would take 2 live lbs. to make 1 dead lb., therefore the bullock would cost 10d. per lb. dead weight for a start off. Another fact, as I am sure Senator Tunney is well aware, that the whole of a bullock is not beefsteak. There are a number of gaps to be covered in that instance.
In the last note I took of Senator Duffy's economic facts, he quoted a farmer who had four cows and who had a great mortality, so much mortality that, as Senator Duffy says, the man ended by going into the poteen business. The Senator need not have told us that, because it was evident that the man was in the poteen business before he met Senator Duffy. I do not think any man could have suffered a mortality of 200 per cent., no matter what business he was in.
Eight cows died.
He had four cows and eight died in two years. The poteen in that case was fairly good. Senator O'Reilly, who spoke last night, made one observation which I think every Senator should keep in mind. That is that when we talk about agricultural wages and compare them with urban wages, we should remember the conditions that apply in both cases. Senator O'Reilly went into it in detail but I want only to remind Senators of the importance of that fact —the difference in rent and the difference in the cost of fuel for instance. The agricultural labourer gets fuel free or very cheaply. There is also the difference in the cost of vegetables. If he does not grow them himself, he gets them free from his employer. There is also a difference in the cost of milk. These things should be kept in mind and certain allowances should be made when we compare wages in the country with wages in urban districts. Senator O'Reilly made the point that under vocational organisation wages would be settled in a sensible way. I do not think that under any vocational organisation you could have a board constituted on a more vocational basis than the present board. I, therefore, fail to see how any improvement could be made under vocational organisation. I intend to deal with that point in more detail later.
Senator McCabe in speaking last night told us about the 30-acre farm, and said that there was a very small margin left in that case for the owner. He gave us the expenses of the farm and the receipts for 12 months. Amongst these was one item I took a note of. The farmer he said had five cows and his receipts from the creamery were £50. Assuming the worst conditions—that the milk was sold during the summer months when milk is only 10½d. a gallon—the Senator's figures would show that the yield from his cows was about 230 gallons each.
The Cavan poteen has a different effect.
I cannot find any sympathy for a small farmer with 30 acres who cannot make ends meet, if he is content with 230-gallon cows.
They might be the same kind of cows which Senator Counihan told us he bought in Killorglin for 30/- each.
Senator Counihan might buy a cow for 30/ but he knows the difference between a good milker and a bad milker. This motion opens with a statement deploring present conditions and calls for adequate remuneration for the farmer and a fair wage for the labourer. I was speaking about output and the difference between gross and net output. If the Seanad does not mind, I should like to go back to that point. Senators know that "output" means that part of the total production sold off the farm and not used for further farming purposes —the feeding of animals and so forth. Net output is calculated by deducting from the farmer's gross output what he may have purchased in the way of seeds and manures for the production of his crops or materials for the feeding of his animals. These gross outputs are given in index numbers. The index number is taken at 100 for 1929-30. We are told in the statistics that, if we take the gross output in 1929-30 as being 100, then in 1942-43 it was 89.3. That is a misleading figure, because farmers in 1942-43 purchased practically no feeding stuffs. One farmer might have purchased from another but that does not count. Therefore, the net output would be really much more favourable in the latter year. In 1938-39, the value of feeding stuffs, fertilisers and seeds purchased was £8,698,000. In 1942-43, it was £2,596,000—about £6,000,000 less.
The value of the net output is also given in these statistics and it is no harm to refer to it. In 1929-30 it was £52,237,000. In 1938-39, it was £44,783,000 and, in 1942-43, it was £83,607,000. Senator Duffy was trying to get at the volume of the output rather than the value. That is very important, because the fact that prices went up may have given the farmers a bigger output value. What we want to know is whether they actually turned out as much stuff as they previously did or not. The statisticians arrive at the volume of net output by calculating what the value of net output would have been in 1942-43 if prices had been the same as in 1938-39. In that way, they find the volume of net output. In 1942-43 it was 9.1 per cent. greater than it was then and 10.3 per cent. greater than it was in 1929-30. That is the important figure. The figure for net output is the figure we should take if we want to find whether our farmers are doing better than they were doing ten or 12 years ago or not. It is also the figure we should take if we want to find out how our farmers here compare with the farmers of other countries. Were it not for Senator Duffy's speech last night, I would not go into this aspect of the matter. I had not time to get the net output figure for Denmark or any other country but, when we compare the gross output here and in Denmark, the comparison seems to be very much against us. If we take the net output, the comparison is more favourable to us but, even in net output, the Danish farmers beat us.
Have the calculations just given by the Minister appeared anywhere?
The particulars on which the figures I have given are based have appeared in theTrade Journal.
You made further calculations yourself?
I got them made.
They have not yet appeared in any journal.
I expect they will appear. The Senator himself can work the matter out in the way I suggest. But if he wants to get the volume of net output, he must take each item separately. If he works the matter out in the way I mentioned, he will get the same figures as I got. Now, I come to the question of the remuneration of farmers and farm labourers. The farmers' income in 1929-30—that is, the value of the output which was distributed amongst all the farmers of this State—was £52,232,000. In 1942-43 it was £83,607,000. That is to say, it increased by 62½ per cent. That would go to show that every farmer's income has increased by 62½ per cent. There is one factor which I did not take into calculation. Everybody knows that there were fewer people engaged on the land in 1942-43 than there were in 1929-30. Therefore, the income of each person engaged on the land must have gone up by more than 62½ per cent. The agricultural wage in 1929-30, according to our figures, averaged 24/9 per week. In 1944, it was 40/3 per week. That is an increase of 61½ per cent. It appears, therefore, that the farmer's income increased by 62½ per cent. and that the farm labourer's wage went up by 61½ per cent. That would show that the farmer treated his labourer as fairly as he could be expected to do. The cost-of-living index figure in 1929-30 was 174 and, in 1944, 295, an increase of 60 per cent. The position is: from 1929-30 to the present time, the cost of living went up by 60 per cent., the labourer's wage went up by 61½ per cent. and the remuneration of the farmer by 62½ per cent. That is to say, the three moved almostpari passu. If it had been laid down in 1929-30 that the farmer's income was to increase exactly in accord with the increase in the cost of living and that the labourer's wage should similarly increase, we could hardly have done better.
What was the labourer's wage in 1935-36, before the Agricultural Wages Board was set up?
The agricultural wage rate before the Agricultural Wages Act came into operation was, on the average, 21/9. Whatever may be said with regard to the income of the farmer and the wage of the farm labourer, one thing is certain—that for the past 20 years they have been moving in step and that they have just kept up with the increased cost of living. The third point raised by the motion has reference to a guaranteed price for all agricultural produce.
Agreed that the Seanad sit later than 9 p.m. to enable the Minister to conclude his speech.
We had a discussion on that matter in the Dáil recently and I take it that some Senators read the debate that took place there.
This question of guaranteed prices is a very important and a very interesting subject. There are two factors, in my opinion, that we must have in the situation before you can guarantee a price for an agricultural product, and I suppose the same applies to other commodities also. The first is that you must have uniformity, and the second is that it must be sold on the home market. I think it must be obvious that it is extremely difficult to guarantee prices unless you have uniformity. For instance, I think it is obvious that it would be impossible to have a guaranteed price in the case of store cattle. I know that in England they have very intricate and elaborate classifications in regard to beef, such as first-grade, second-grade, third-grade, and so on, and then there is also a classification with regard to deadweight. Possibly, we could do that also, but Senators know that the greater part of our cattle are store cattle for export, and I do not think you could possibly guarantee a price for these stores. Every Senator knows that you may have two beasts on offer for sale in the Dublin market, each of them weighing 10 cwt.—good stores—but that even though they are the same weight there may be a difference in value, as between the two beasts, of £2 or £3. So you cannot have a guaranteed price unless you have uniformity and, in order to have uniformity, the produce concerned must be sold on the home market.
Now, what agricultural produce would be best calculated to qualify under those two tests? Well, creamery butter, for instance, is of a uniform character. I do not believe that there is an expert in this country who, if two samples of butter from different creameries were offered to him, could say whether the product of one creamery was different from that of another; and, of course, the ordinary consumer who buys butter from one creamery or another does not see any difference. Bacon, I think, could also be regarded as uniform, within the limit of weights—a system which we had here at one time. We had bacon weighing between minimum and maximum weights going at a certain price, and so on. Wheat, of course, is also uniform and we have a guaranteed price for that, if it is within a certain bushel weight, because that is a way of ruling out wheat which is damp or inferior in any way. Beet, because of its sugar content, is also a commodity for which we can guarantee a price. Eggs which are of a uniform weight could be sold at a guaranteed price, and I think the same would apply to poultry. But there is only a limited number of such commodities which can be sold on that basis because, where there is a big surplus of other commodities, then, naturally, the export price will fix the price to be paid here, and we cannot control the export price.
Unless you control the price at home.
That is a proposal that has been put up occasionally. It can be said that you can deal with exported articles also by means of control by a single agency dealing with export and that, if that single agency has to export the article at less than the fixed price, the loss can be made good through the Exchequer or in some other way, but that is very difficult to do. In the case of butter we can fix the price of creamery butter for export, but that would be only a very small amount. Where you have a large export, it would be ridiculous to have any fixed price because, in a case of that kind, where the amount exported is much more important, quantitatively, than what is used at home, it would be impossible to guarantee a price.
I see no objection to this fixation of prices, but I do say, as I said in the Dáil, that although I see no objection to the theory of it, when you come down to the practical side of it, it is a very different matter. It begins to get difficult to decide what is the level of the prices. We would all agree that the farmer should get the best possible return and that the consumer should get the best value that he can get. In order to do so, we should fix the price at the best possible level, but, in doing so, we should endeavour to give a fair return to the farmer and also give the commodity to the consumer at a fair price. In that connection, I invited the Dáil to give me some machinery for dealing with those prices, and I was told that as I was in charge of that matter they should not be expected to tax their brains in dealing with it. Now, what we have done in the fixing of the prices of wheat and beet and, during the emergency, of the prices of milk, eggs and so on, is that we have fixed the prices at the level which we thought would give the farmers a proper return, but we have to admit that we had not proper costings and did not have the machinery to enable the farmer to produce more wheat and beet or to be certain whether the prices were fair or not.
Finally, I should say that I am not against the idea of the fixation of prices, but I want the Seanad to realise that there are certain difficulties in connection with it. I was misinterpreted in the Dáil, and it was held that I was against the idea because I said that I did not want to be tied down to it. I did not say that I was against it. All I said was that I did not want to be tied to it, although I was in sympathy with it. That, again, is a difficult matter.
Senator Duffy last night spoke about the type of representatives we have on some of these agricultural committees. He made the complaint that they were not exactly representative of agricultural labourers. I do not know whether Senator Duffy has very much cause for making allegations like that or not. In the beginning, when these committees were set up, we went to a considerable amount of trouble, a great deal of trouble, in trying to get both representatives of labourers and farmers on these boards. As far as my recollection goes, the county committees of agriculture, in nearly all cases, made recommendations in regard to the men who would represent the farmers or the employers. But, in nearly every case, the county committees said they were not in a position to make recommendations in regard to the representatives of labour.
Inspectors working under the Department of Agriculture were also asked to make recommendations, and eventually in some way or another these men were appointed. I would like to say that since these committees were set up, and since the board began its work, they have worked smoothly and very happily together. Senator Duffy said last night that we could not imagine the representatives of the farmers and of the labourers agreeing on any particular question that might come before them with regard to fair wages. The strange thing is that they nearly always agree, practically every year, since the system started. The board makes the final recommendation. If they do not agree, the chairman has to come in and make an award.
Perhaps, I should have started by saying that it should be described as arbitration machinery. You have representatives of the employers and of the labourers on these committees throughout the country. All of them hold their meetings about the autumn, or the end of the autumn season, to make recommendations for the coming year. The recommendations come before the board. Again, the board is composed of representatives of the farmers and labourers with what are called three neutral members and the chairman. It is laid down in the Act that if the representatives of the farmers and the labourers agree, then their agreement goes, and nobody can alter it. That is a system of arbitration where the chairman goes to the committees, brings back a recommendation, takes it before the board and tries, as far as he can, to get agreement. So far as I can recollect, he has always got agreement.
I may be wrong, but so far as I can recollect he has never had to give an award himself—he has always got agreement. The three neutral members are called in only when the employers and the employees cannot reach agreement and when the chairman has to make an award. It is a very good system, and it has worked very well. The whole matter was discussed very fully in 1936 when the Bill to establish the board was brought before the Dáil and the Seanad. I do not think that anybody at that time, whether representative of farmers or labourers in either House, ever made a suggestion of appointing persons other than those provided for in the Bill. The Bill provided that the Minister would appoint them. They all realised then, as they do now, that there is no organisation in this country of farmers which represents, let us say, even 50 per cent., and no organisation of agricultural labourers that represents 50 per cent. of labourers or even 30 per cent. of them.
Or even 10 per cent.
There was nobody to speak for them and the only thing that could be done was to leave it to the Minister to get the best machinery he could devise to enable these representatives to be appointed. Senator Tunney complained that the representative of the labourers in County Dublin is a member of a Fianna Fáil club——
I did not complain that he was.
You stated that he was.
But I did not complain.
That is better, anyway.
Not much; it makes it worse.
I thought that Senator Tunney was a member of Fianna Fáil.
He was, at one time, but he left us at a time when he was swimming against the tide. Anyway, I have often heard accusations made that so and so was appointed because he was a member of a Fianna Fáil club and that he should not have been appointed. Why should that disqualify him from being on a wages board, or on any other body? If there are a great number of agricultural labourers in agricultural clubs, and if we happen to hit on one of them and put him on a wages board, that cannot be helped.
He is obviously the most intelligent.
I think that is as far as Senator Tunney goes in his resolution, but Senator Counihan comes along with an amendment, and the first thing he asks for is the stabilisation of rates on the basis of the first year of the last European war. I am surprised that Senator Counihan seems to be departing from complete derating. There is a certain volume of intelligent opinion now moving towards derating. I think that Senator Counihan should have stuck to his guns, because one never knows what this new movement may effect, and it would be a pity that they should succeed in getting derating at a time when Senator Counihan had left them altogether. But, at any rate, there is no good reason for Senator Counihan's amendment about fixing the rate as it was in 1914, unless, as it was said last night, he was going to bring the whole lot back to 1914— agricultural wages and farmers' prices. We cannot have one thing picked out and left at the 1914 rate while keeping the rate of wages and the price of farmers' produce at the 1944 rate.
My idea was that it would be done in the way of subsidising the farmer rather than giving it by way of fixed prices for cattle, pigs, sheep, butter and everything else.
There may be something to be said for the view that it is better to cut the farmers' cost in any way you can, instead of trying to help him by putting up prices. I cannot understand, however, why the 1914 basis should have been taken. Senator Counihan says that the workers should get "the highest wage which the industry can pay." That is, of course, the whole kernel of the discussion, I am sure, "the highest wage the industry can pay," and it is really the point that the Agricultural Wages Board keeps in mind, because I think that anybody will come to that conclusion without being present at a meeting of the board. I was never present at a meeting of the board, but I assume that the representatives of the labourers there are always pointing out to the board that it is very difficult for a labourer to live on his present wages.
I am sure the representatives of the farmers are also always saying: "We are paying as much as we can possibly afford," and you have to reconcile those two views as best you possibly can. Senator Counihan's amendment, therefore, proposing to pay what the farmer can afford is what everybody is looking for, and there is hardly any necessity for an amendment of that kind.
There is a lot to be said for certain ideas in the motion, but the implications of the motion and of the amendment are objectionable, because it is implied that the farmer is not getting fair play and that the labourer is not getting fair play. I think the figures showing the farmers' income and the labourers' income and the cost of living in 1929-30 and in 1944, will show that farmers and labourers are getting a fair do, taking everything as it goes.
The terms of the motion, in some respects, are impracticable. They could not possibly be carried out, and on that account, not because I am out of sympathy with the line of this motion, but because it is impossible to implement the motion at the moment, in the terms in which it is drawn up, and because it is impracticable to carry out its terms, I would have to disagree and to say the motion is not acceptable, so far as I am concerned. I think that every practical thinking Senator would have to vote against both the amendment and the motion.
The amendment as well?