Before the adjournment last night I was dealing with a fact which I think is of the utmost importance when considering the questions that were raised by Deputies Heffernan and O'Mara in their speeches (apart from the questions raised in the motions they have on the Order Paper), as to the effect on agriculture and industry of the amount of taxation and the conclusions that were drawn that the present depression in both agriculture and industry arose out of, and were caused by, the existing amount of taxation. I was pointing to the fact that the trouble in regard to agriculture seemed to me to be very much deeper in its causes and would consequently require radical remedies.
In 1925 the area of ploughed land throughout Ireland was the lowest of any year since 1847, whatever may have been the position prior to that year. There has been a continuous decline up to 1914 in the area under the plough since the 'fifties, and it was only during the European war, under a certain stimulus of high prices and also the stimulus of compulsory tillage, that the area of ploughed land was increased. Since 1918 there has been a new period of decline, leading to the minimum of 2,154,000 acres for the whole country in 1925.
When it is borne in mind that general agreement is reached amongst experts that ordinary arable land which is tilled produces two-and-a-half to three times—speaking very moderately —the amount of food that the same land under grass would produce, we can see that the causes of the decline of wealth in the country are not temporary, and are not due to local and immediate circumstances; the decline of wealth is due to some deep-seated causes which have been operating for many years. I urge that it is necessary to deal with this problem, having regard to the fact that the causes of the decline in gross national production from the land are not temporary but are deep-seated, and that it must be dealt with radically.
I think that the representatives of the farmers are very short-sighted when they think only in terms of prices that are obtained for produce in England and when they think of the present incidence of taxation as the effective cause of any present depression in agriculture. My complaint with the present agitation, and with the speeches made on the matter—not that one is satisfied that every penny raised is well spent and that the utmost economy is already arrived at—is that the agitation is tending to divert people's minds in the wrong direction in looking for the cause in taxation. It is not by any means the cause, and, no matter how much effect the agitation would have upon expenditure, it is not going to bring about the change, especially in agricultural conditions, that is sought for.
Deputy Heffernan said it was necessary to give some inducement to farmers to produce more from the land. I am not going to controvert that. We know, as a matter of fact, that in practice some inducement may be required, and it was the inducement, during the war, of high prices for agricultural produce which led to the increased productivity of the soil. What do Deputy Heffernan and others who think with him expect will come out of the present situation in England in regard to prices? They are inclined to lay stress upon the condition of the English market and the supplying of the English market. They are supported in that view by nearly every public writer, who says the only market is the English market.
It should be borne in mind that the trend of public opinion in England— predominant public opinion—is to reduce prices of agricultural produce. If that becomes effective we will have to face the possibility that prices in the English market are going to be lower, not higher, and any decline in total taxation which may come about by a little economy here and a little cut there is not going to have any appreciable effect upon the agricultural producer's market. The prices in England may become lower and, if they do, how is any reduction in taxation here that is appreciable going to remedy the situation?
I would like Deputy Heffernan and others to consider the possibility and the desirability of increasing the home market for agricultural produce and to seek out ways and means of securing that increase. I find that in the year 1925, there were imports of farm produce, outside wheat and flour, to the extent of six million pounds worth.