I daresay the Minister for Finance would say, as he said in his Budget speech a year ago, that the financial position of this country is buoyant. Now, we have deposits—dead money—in our banks increasing, and live money, in the shape of discounts and advances to customers, which shows the demand of industry and agriculture, diminishing. We have the amount of the note circulation diminishing, and, I might add, the turn-over also diminishing—this is from the pen, I presume, of the same correspondent whom the Minister quoted from the number of The Economist in October last. When the Minister advances this paper as an authority on the Irish financial situation I am not going to question it. I take him on his own ground. Here were the bank clearances in 1932: they were £273,557,000 in 1932, and in 1933 they were £267,000,000—and this with factories being opened every day. We were told by the Minister for Finance of the £8,000,000 he had pumped into agriculture above and beyond what the previous Government had done. He told us about all the relief schemes —the milk scheme, the turf scheme— and the Minister for Local Government and Public Health knows, if he has studied the elements of finance and currency, that the quickest way to put money in circulation is by Government grants. That is not productive. That is not ordinary economic activity. It is just spoon-feeding by the Government. If we were to withdraw from circulation all that the Minister for Finance claims has been pumping into agriculture and industry in this country, what would be the note circulation? What would be the bank clearances? What would be the bank deposits, or the bank discounts and advances to customers?
The position is appalling, and Ministers must know that it is. That is why they are trying to camouflage the position and draw on the reserves that have been built up by hard work and thrift in the agricultural industry—to draw on those reserves on the slippery, slimy pretence that farmers must meet their responsibilities. I agree that they must meet their responsibilities, but the issue I take with the Minister is that the farmer has met his responsibilities, and I say that it is nothing short of bare-faced plunder to ask farmers to pay any annuities to our Government while they are paying them to England. That is a perfectly legitimate and reasonable statement. A man who owes a debt is not asked to pay it more than once. That debt was collected by the present Government's predecessors in order to pay it to another party. That other party is now getting it from the same people by the direct method. What right has our Government to butt in and claim it, or any portion of it? That is the whole case. I dare say that to go back to the origin of rating on agricultural land, would be, perhaps, going into realms of research never explored by the Minister or any of his colleagues, but I think it is relevant to this motion, considering the claim made by the Government spokesmen on this motion and on other matters that the Government were giving so much relief to agriculture. It has been stated on this motion that the Government is giving £1,750,000 in the current year, and the same amount last year. It is also claimed that it gave £2,200,000 the previous year. Let us examine those figures.
What is the origin of the grant in aid of agriculture? I am sure that the Minister who is administering this matter on behalf of the Government knows that, prior to the Local Government Act, 1898, the landlords paid, roughly, half the rates on agricultural land. By virtue of that arrangement, the tenant farmers held their land under lease from those landlords. When land purchase was about to be introduced in 1898, what was called an agricultural grant was instituted. It was measured at half the rate on agricultural land for the year 1898 and amounted, for the Free State area, to about £600,000. That was half the rate on agricultural land for that year. That grant, given for relief of rates on agricultural land then, was not a relief to the farmer but a relief to the landlord. The farmer was liable to only half the rate and the landlord was liable to the other half. The Government, under the land purchase scheme, took over the landlord's responsibility for his share of half the rate. Instead of increasing as the rates increased from then onwards, the agricultural grant was standardised at half the rate for 1898. In 1924, the Government of the Free State discovered that they had surplus moneys derived from tariffs imposed on manufactured goods. The surplus amounted to £500,000 or £600,000. It approximated very closely to the amount of the agricultural grant then payable. In view of the fact that Great Britain and Northern Ireland had increased the agricultural grant to three-fourths of the actual rate on agricultural land, the Government here decided to double the agricultural grant. That accounted for £1,200,000 in relief of rates on agricultural land.
In 1931, the leader of the then Opposition—now President de Valera —spoke from these benches and was supported by the Minister for Local Government in demanding immediate additional relief to the extent of £1,000,000 by way of agricultural grant. That was the motion which they put forward and I believe it was subsequently defeated. The former Government introduced in its Budget in May, 1931, an increased grant of £750,000. To find the money for that, the Government imposed a halfpeany per lb. on sugar and 4d. per gallon on petrol. According to the records published by the present Government since they came into office, there were 45,000,000 gallons of petrol imported and 4d. per gallon on that amount would come to close on £700,000. There were roughly 80,000 tons of sugar imported and a halfpenny per lb. on that would yield about £350,000. That is to say, there was £1,000,000 raised for the purpose of the £750,000 grant. In 1932, when the present Government came into office, they decided to increase the grant by £250,000 but they were really only giving back the amount produced by the taxes imposed by their predecessors to provide the £750,000. They were only giving to Cæsar the things that were Cæsar's. That increased the agricultural grant to a few pounds short of £2,200,000. The Minister for Industry and Commerce, in speaking against this motion, asked: "Where are we to get the money?" I ask, "What are you doing with the money which you obtained from the taxation imposed?" I challenge the Minister to say that that taxation is not producing the amount I stated. The Minister's Government have altered the tax of a halfpenny per lb. on sugar to 4d. per lb. on tea. I challenge him to deny that 4d. per lb. on tea and 4d. per gallon on petrol will not produce £1,000,000. That being so, what moral authority had they for reducing the grant in aid of agriculture?
It is no excuse for members of the Government to say: "We provided £100,000 for a milk scheme, £250,000 for an unemployment scheme, £2,300,000 for bounties and so much for a wheat scheme." If we were to follow the Government apologists up that blind alley, what would it mean? It would show that the Government, on their own acknowledgment, have done nothing for the country but, in fact, have extracted out of the agricultural industry, which represents 80 per cent. of the entire industry of the country, £5,000,000, directly, to pay Britain and that they have reduced the price level in this country corresponding to the British tariffs imposed on our goods going into Britain. They have depressed the price level here. Then we have enthusiastic Ministers, like the Minister for Industry and Commerce, telling us how he is going to "brown" the whole country by turning up the grass and producing more crops. It is a pity that nobody who knows anything about agriculture now adorns the benches opposite. We have—I say it without any discourtesy—only a ploughboy and a milkmaid left. Their ploughmen have gone. We are told that we will be compensated for this extraction of our money by beet and wheat schemes.
As the Minister is here, I wish to put to him a point which has been laboured by the Minister for Finance. He worked out the figure—this was before the £220,000 of Saturday last was conceded—of the agricultural grant for this year at £1,750,000. He went on then to refer to the figure for 1931-32—the last year the former administration was in office—and he pointed out that the net amount of the grant paid that year was £1,812,000—£60,000 more than the Minister proposes to give the county councils this year. Of course, the Minister for Finance omitted to say that the amounts owed by defaulting tenant-purchasers in respect of annuities were deducted from the grant of £1,950,000 that nominally was paid to agriculture in 1931-32. He also omitted to inform the House of this, that even the deductions that were made in that grant in 1931-32. were still a debt due to the county councils, but that the present Government in its Land Bill appropriated, or I might say, misappropriated, these balances that were then due to the county councils. They misappropriated them for Government revenue when they funded the annuities and they give no definite promise that these moneys when collected will go back to the county councils. This year, the Minister for Local Government in a circular, advising the county councils of the amount of the grant sent out in January last, reminded them that the total grant payable will be £1,750,000, less any deductions that have to be made for defaults in the land annuities, so that the £1,750,000 is not a net figure. It is only a nominal figure. We do not know what the real figure will be. I should be glad to get an assurance from the Minister for Local Government that it is a net figure and that the £220,000 added to that will give us £1,970,000, an assurance that that £1,970,000 will be a net figure. That is not the advice we have got so far.
We were told by the Minister for Finance that out of these grants given by the Government to help agriculture, real agriculture from their point of view, not grass culture, they have provided a bounty or subsidy for wheat growing. That is true and I hope it will be successful. It is a very good departure in agriculture. It is a very desirable direction to give agriculture in this country, but I should like to have it given on better conditions in order to ensure its success. I hope that I shall not be taken as too pessimistic when I say that I fear for its success. We are told that 60,000 acres will be under wheat and will get a subsidy this year. That 60,000 acres is an increase of 40,000 acres on a couple of years ago, and that 40,000 acres increase means, for a six years' rotation, 240,000 acres increase in tillage. We are told that this is the alternative agricultural economy to grass, but the sponsors of that new agricultural economy seem to forget this, that these 240,000 acres of new tillage will produce more animal food than when they were growing grass. What is going to be done with the cattle fed on it? Further, we were told a moment ago by the Minister for Industry and Commerce that the primary object of land cultivation is to provide human food. I agree 100 per cent. with that, but no agricultural economy has yet been devised among tillers of the soil that will produce crops and only such crops as are exclusively human food. I would put it at a very high estimate when I say that the human food produced, even when beet and wheat are added to the crops on the six years' rotation, would not be more than 20 per cent. of the entire production. What will be done with the 80 per cent. animal food produced? Will you feed cattle? You are faced in the British market with a demand for only 42 per cent. of the present small number of cattle being fed. There is no market for 58 per cent. of them. The President was asked the other day to give Government time to discuss that problem and he said it was of no importance or something to that effect. Where are we travelling?