IN COMMITTEE ON FINANCE. - VOTE No. 25—SUPPLEMENTARY AGRICULTURAL GRANT.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £149,011 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1929, chun an Deontas Talmhaíochta do mhéadú (Uimh. 35 de 1925).

That a sum not exceeding £149,011 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1929, for the increase of the Agricultural Grant (No. 35 of 1925).

In 1925 an additional agricultural grant of the same amount as the old agricultural grant was provided. The Act by which the new Agricultural Grant was given specified that the money should be provided by the Oireachtas and should appear on the Estimates. The original Agricultural Grant is paid out of the Central Fund and does not come up for review.

I do not consider that the Government are acting fairly in this matter. I do not think they are giving any attention whatsoever to the depression in agriculture at present, and I do not consider this amount by any means sufficient. I think the Government are also guilty of absolute neglect in this matter inasmuch as they give the same proportion of this grant to the farmer with 200, 400 or 1,000 acres, and the farmer who has nothing on his land but bullocks gets the same relief as the farmer who does his duty by the country and tills his land. Anyone who looks into the figures during the past four or five years will find that tillage has been reduced by something like 187,000 acres. Over 167,000 people have left the land since 1922. I think that shows the manner in which those grants are being divided is a wrong one. I think they should be made applicable to the farmer who tills a percentage of his land.

Is the Deputy advocating legislation?

I am not. I am objecting to the manner in which the grant is being spent. I consider that it is very unfair that an individual with a large amount of land who is not doing his duty in regard to it should get the same proportion of the grant as a tillage farmer who employs labour and tills his land. Even though the old agricultural grant has been doubled, I consider that this is only very small relief to the agricultural holder. The farmers in England are relieved from all rates on agricultural land, and the farmers in the North of Ireland are getting the same relief.

I am afraid that the Deputy is anticipating his own motion.

I think under these circumstances I am in order, in speaking to this Vote, in stating that this grant is not sufficient.

The Deputy cannot advocate an amendment to the existing law on the Estimate.

I am stating that in my opinion the amount of the grant is not sufficient and that it should be doubled, or more than doubled, under the circumstances. Farmers in this country who have to compete with those in England and the North of Ireland are clearly entitled to the same relief which those farmers get.

I think that all that could be much better covered under the Deputy's own motion.

I want to bear out what Deputy Corry said.

What did he say?

If you listened you would know. I say that the grant should be greater and that where there is 25 per cent. of arable land tilled there should be a total relief of rates such as you have in England and Northern Ireland. That, however, I suppose, will come up for discussion with Deputy Corry's motion. There is one matter upon which I would like to get information from the Minister. In the Midlands there are a number of holdings from which people have been evicted, owing to debts that they owe, and they are in the hands of emergency men. In some cases the land annuities are not being paid, and out of this agricultural grant the annuities that have not been paid in a particular county are being stopped. I want to know from the Minister, in connection with these holdings from which people are being evicted, principally by the banks for debt, and which are now in the hands of emergency men, whether the banks are held liable for the annuities.

Surely that does not arise?

I want to point out that the land annuities which have not been paid in a particular county are being stopped out of the agricultural grant.

I would like to associate myself with what has been said by previous Deputies in connection with this grant. It will, I think, be admitted by Deputies in all parts of the House, that this is an agricultural country. That being so, one would naturally come to the conclusion that a much larger Vote than this would have been asked for. In regard to the industrial side of this country, we have been asked to vote large sums in the way of subsidies for the Shannon scheme and other undertakings. It may be quite all right to endeavour to improve industry, but I think that the House should also set its mind to trying to improve agriculture in a greater way than has been done up to the present. Reference has been made to the fact that certain relief from rates is about being granted to farmers in England, Scotland. Wales and the North of Ireland. That is one thing that I think the Minister for Agriculture should have taken into consideration in regard to this particular Vote. As far as the markets for agriculture are concerned, we are asked to compete against foreign competitors, such, for instance, as Denmark. We find that as regards Irish agricultural produce the competition from Denmark is a very big thing. It is probable that it will be bigger in the future. Owing to the de-rating systems proposed for England, Scotland, Wales and the North of Ireland, it is also probable that we will be faced with competition from the farmers in these countries as soon as that scheme is put into operation. That being the position, I think that the Vote which we are now asked to pass should be much larger than what it is. I should just like to refer for the moment to what Deputy Corry said in regard to grants in connection with tillage land. I think that the proportion of this grant given to farmers who cultivate their land should be far bigger than what it is at present. I think it is most unfair that the farmers in Louth, Meath and Kildare, who hold fertile land that is not cultivated, should be getting the same proportion of relief under this grant as the tillage farmers of the country.

Might I point out to the Deputy that both he and Deputy Corry have been anticipating the discussion that will take place on the two motions which appear on the Order Paper in the names of Deputy Ryan and Deputy Corry. The discussion that is now taking place would, I think, more properly arise on these two motions.

There is just one other matter that I would like to refer to, and that is the question of land annuities. It may be that I am not in order in referring to this matter now, but the position at the present time is that in the Co. Donegal, the constituency that I represent, there are a great many of the farmers who, through force of economic circumstances and through poverty, are unable to pay their land annuities. Consequently, we find the Department of Agriculture deducting a certain amount from the agricultural grant that ordinarily would go to the relief of the rates in that county. The result of that is that farmers who can ill afford it have to pay more than they should be paying in rates. That is a matter that I think the Minister for Agriculture should give more consideration to. I agree with previous Deputies in expressing regret that the Minister for Agriculture did not ask the House for a larger sum than that mentioned in the Estimate. I think myself that the sum asked for is altogether inadequate, that is, if we want to improve agriculture in the country and especially amongst the small farmers.

Deputy Cassidy complains that, in view of the fact that de-rating has been brought forward in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland, the Minister for Agriculture, who has nothing whatever to do with this Vote —the Minister for Finance is the accounting officer—did not bring forward a very much larger Vote. This Vote was brought before the Dáil in February last at a time when not a word was being said about de-rating in Great Britain or Northern Ireland. I suppose that Deputy Cassidy expects the Minister for Agriculture to be a prophet as well as the Minister for that Department.

A supplementary estimate would do.

We have to get rid of this Vote first before a Supplementary Estimate can be introduced. The question is: where is the money to come from? Everyone would be glad to relieve the farmers from rates, but is it any good to relieve the farmers from the payment of rates by increasing taxation? In practice, there is nothing very noble or exalted in inviting the farmers of the country to put money into one of their pockets and take it out of the other. It has often been said in this House that at least 75 per cent. of the taxes of this country are paid by the farmers. I do not know whether that is true or not, but if anyone wants to get at the income tax and super-tax payers he will find that the number of them who are not farmers is very small indeed. About eighteen months ago the Minister for Finance told me, in reply to a question, that the number of super-tax payers in this State was less than 500, so that in practice the suggestion to make a more benevolent gesture to the farmers of the country in order to relieve them of the payment of their rates simply means relieving them of their rates and putting more on them in the way of taxes. In the case of the man with the big family, that will mean a greater hardship. Rates are oppressive in regard to the size of a man's holding. Men have to buy boots and sugar for their children, and probably a little bit of jam if they can afford it. If you increase the taxes on such a man, then you are going to hit him very severely.

The Minister for Finance has not got the purse of Fortunatus. He cannot produce money without taking it from somebody's pocket. There is no place that I know of where the Minister for Finance can get barrels of gold which he can shovel out to anyone who wants it. The position is that if you increase the agricultural grant you must increase taxation. The agricultural grant is a big sum at present, amounting to £600,000. If you increase it to any substantial degree—some Deputies have suggested that it should be doubled—it will mean a very serious increase in taxation. There is no use in our coming here and just talking as if the sum of £600,000 can be easily raised. It might be possible, but I think it would be extremely difficult, to raise it by making economies. I think it would be impossible to raise it without resorting to additional taxation. If, as I am sure Deputy Cassidy would wish, it should be raised by additional income tax and super-tax, you would, I think, be running a very great risk of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. I do not say that all super-tax payers are geese, but the danger exists.

Deputy Cooper killed the goose that lays the golden eggs when he bilked the farmers.

I think that Deputy Cooper is not quite right in saying that the Minister for Agriculture has no responsibility for this Vote. I am sure that the Executive Council considered these various Votes before putting them before the Dáil. I suppose that in the Executive Council the Minister for Agriculture has an equal vote with the Minister for Finance, and if he wished he could at least have exerted his influence in the Executive Council to get the Vote increased. I think that Deputy Cooper said, with a lot of truth, that if the agricultural grant were increased it is the farmers themselves who would have to contribute the increase. There is no doubt about that. But, if we pursue that argument to its logical conclusion, we are not doing the farmer any service by passing this present Vote.

I do not know if Deputy Cooper, in the interests of the farmers, is going to vote against this, but I think he should if he is going to pursue his argument to a logical conclusion. There is no doubt the farmers will reap a certain amount of benefit if this Vote is increased. If it is true they would have to contribute 75 per cent. of that increase themselves they would benefit to the extent of the other 25 per cent. There is no doubt that the farmers are at a very obvious disadvantage in paying rates on their land at present, seeing that land is their only means of income. If you take the secretary of a county council, or the secretary of a government department, or a man with a fairly decent salary of from £700 or £800 upwards, he is paying very little rates locally compared with the farmer, who has to pay rates on the land out of which he makes his living, as well as on his dwelling. The government servant or the county council secretary, or other such person, is not paying local rates out of the instrument by which he lives. He is paying rates only on his dwelling. I think that is where the injustice comes in—making the farmers to pay what are very high rates on their land. Even though the farmers have been relieved to a certain extent by this agricultural grant, the rates have gone up a very considerable amount. Taking the rates on land all over the country, I think they have gone up about 100 per cent., even with this agricultural grant, during the last ten years, while the price of their produce has gone up only 30 per cent. In the case of civil servants and others the cost of living is taken into consideration by way of a bonus. I understand that one of the items taken into account when calculating the cost-of-living bonus is the rents and rates they have to pay on the average. Taking all these things into consideration, I think the farmer is not being treated as well as other members of the community as regards relief of rates.

To my mind, most of the debate on this Vote so far is out of order. I do not want to enter into an elaborate discussion of the points that have been raised, but I wish to make clear certain opinions which I hold. I call the attention of Deputy Ryan to the fact that the opinions voiced by him now have been voiced and emphasised in the past in the Dáil by members of the Farmers' Party. We claim that this Vote is on the Estimates to-day largely because of the efforts of the Farmers' Party. As Deputies on the Fianna Fáil benches have seen fit to go back to rake up all the Votes and other things with which the Farmers' Party were concerned in the past——

I never went for my opinions or convictions to the so-called Farmers' Party.

I would like to call Deputy Ryan's attention to a debate in the Dáil in July, 1924, on a motion which was put down by Deputy Wilson and seconded by me, in reference to incidence of rating on agricultural land. I think it will be found that the views I expressed then are almost in agreement with these expressed by the Deputy here. I hold almost the same views as Deputy Ryan in regard to rating on agricultural land. I believe the incidence of rating on agricultural land has been, and is still, unfair, but it has been relieved by this £600,000 which has been granted. I am of opinion that the whole question of agricultural land rating will have to receive very serious consideration by this Dáil in the future, but it is a complex and difficult problem, because already the effect of increasing grants to the local bodies has been, to a certain extent, to take away responsibility from those bodies. Those bodies have not the responsibility of finding the money which they have to spend. The more we increase the grant from the national exchequer, the more we take away responsibility from those bodies. They will have no responsibility with regard to the collection of the money they spend. I find that the sense of responsibility in that connection getting less and less day after day, and I am driven to the belief that if agricultural rates are to be reduced, and rates in general are to be reduced, it will not be done by the efforts of local bodies. I think the whole question of rates on agricultural land will have to be considered. I hold the opinion, as opposed to the opinion of Deputy Cooper, that although in the final issue to a very large extent the farmers have to bear a great proportion of the taxation, or rating, I hold that if you de-rate the land and impose taxation on the general taxpayer, at least a portion of that will stick with him, and you will relieve agriculturists to a certain extent. I do not want to elaborate these arguments at this stage, as I do not consider this is a right time to discuss the subject. It is, however, a very important question and will have to be discussed by the Dáil on a later occasion and a decision taken upon it.

I think it is mean of the Government that this grant for the farmers should be so small considering that the farmers contribute 75 per cent. of the taxation of the country. £600,000 is only a very small portion of the enormous sum raised in taxation and to which they contribute so heavily for the upkeep of this country. Surely economies could be effected so as to enable a larger grant than that to be given? It is absolutely nonsense to be talking about putting money in one of the pockets of the farmer and taking it out of another of his pockets. In the case of the farmer, you will not find a second pocket in the few duds he has to be putting money in and taking out in the way suggested.

I think the discussion that has taken place would, to a large extent, be more appropriate in discussing Budget proposals. A discussion of that kind is too late now, and altogether out of place, as the question does not arise. It is quite apparent that this is not a Vote for the improvement of agriculture, and it should be that if we were to have this discussion on it. It is certainly a Vote for the relief of the agricultural community, but there is no question of improvement under the Vote. The claims that have been made for farmers who till their land are the funniest that I have ever heard made. These claims are based on the assumption, I suppose, that farmers till their farms in a certain way not for their own benefit, but from a philanthropic point of view and for the good of the nation, and because of that the nation should rush to their assistance, it is suggested, and give them grants. It savours too much of the nursery altogether. As I said, this is not a proper time for the sort of discussion that has taken place.

I would like to know is Deputy Gorey making a point of order?

Whether I am or not does not matter. A certain move has been made in England with regard to the de-rating of land. I think in the very near future we will be faced with the idea, following the same course, and also in the near future the adoption of an alternative means for financing the State. Criticism has been made by Deputies and by people outside about the amount of rates, regardless of the fact that the whole local rate and its administration are attributable altogether to the local representatives. If local rating is high nobody can be blamed except the local representatives, who began the down grade a great many years ago, and are giving continually increasing services. I have never yet known a proposal to be defeated at any public board in the country, even for a rise of salary to a doctor.

The Deputy is out of order.

I know I am.

This matter is largely governed by legislation. The amount was fixed by statute and it was provided by statute that the allocation of this additional grant was to be made on the same basis as the original grant was allocated to the various counties, so that really I think nothing properly arises for discussion here except the contention that the sum ought to be larger. I suppose that is in order. It has been dealt with to some extent. A very substantial proportion of any amount added to the agricultural grant must come out of the pockets of the farmers. Furthermore, if it were raised, as it would have to be raised in total by additional taxation, there would be extra charges of collection, and extra charges would arise, particularly the extra cost to the community in the case of Customs duties, because if a Customs duty is levied for revenue purposes a certain sum is collected by the State. It may be 2/- a lb. on some commodity. That means that the commodity costs the retailer or wholesaler here 2/- a lb. more than it otherwise would have done. The retailer or wholesaler takes his profit on the original price plus 2/- a lb., so that a substantial additional sum is taken from the public beyond what the Exchequer gets. That is a matter that has to be taken into account. Another factor must be taken into account in connection with any proposals for a large increase in the agricultural grant. I do not want to discuss proposals such as de-rating proposals, because they are not before the House. but they have been mentioned, and I would just say this, that that would be a very different proposition here as compared with a neighbouring country. The total proportion of agricultural land to the total valuation in England is less than 2½ per cent. The proportion here is 65 per cent. Proposals for de-rating of agricultural land here would mean that certain county councils, for instance, would derive about 90 per cent. of their revenue from the Exchequer, so that de-rating proposals such as were mentioned would practically involve in the Free State an entire recasting or complete abolition of local government. It is a very big matter, and we cannot discuss it now, but I think it is one that will have to be dealt with by the Dáil, if the House desires to discuss it on some other occasion. I would only say that, so far as this Vote is concerned, it has simply nothing to do with it. It is presented in pursuance of the statute, and the grant will be distributed in the method laid down. There is not a great deal of room to further discuss the matter in detail.

Question put and agreed to.