Even taking that 30,000 acres out, it does not materially reduce the figure. It does not bring it down to £260,000. I do not think the Minister can do that even with the aid of the rather fallible Minister for Finance. I remember mentioning on a previous occasion what the ultimate cost of this would be to the tax-payer in that instance; now it practically means an increase in the price of bread, because that is what it comes to. The Minister expected 800,000 acres but he mentioned now that the bounty would reach about £1,500,000. I think it would have been a great deal more than that. I think that on the same calculation of 800,000 acres it would be closer to £2,000,000. However, as I say, these are purely speculative figures. The Minister assumes, tentatively at all events, that the same rate of increase can be kept on. Is that likely? The Minister assumes, therefore, that in five or six years the taxpayer—that is, the consumer or the person who eats bread under the new system—would have to pay all that. What he bases the rapid increase on, especially over a period of six years, is not clear to me. I think the Minister is overlooking the very important fact that, naturally the amount of additional land suitable for wheat is bound to diminish. After you have reached a certain peak point, the rate of increase will obviously decrease. Leaving that aside, however, I think there is a much more important objection to the Minister's estimate of the number of years in which he hoped to be able to provide wheat for this country from this country, and that is that he is inducing people to grow wheat at present, by means of the bounty system, by paying for wheat a great deal more than its economic value. He has done that deliberately. In that way, he has induced a number of farmers, against their better judgment, to grow wheat. He has made it, for the moment, economic for them to do so, and he has made it economic for them to do so by the help that he has given whether by way of subsidy under the system that is passing away or by means of putting it on to the consumer as the Minister now acknowledges his purpose is.
The Minister will remember, however, that more than once in this House he has acknowledged—although the point has been put up to him again and again without eliciting an answer, since he went back on that acknowledgment —that the success of his wheat policy will depend on a proper rotation of crops. He ought to know that, although he may induce farmers to continue to grow wheat for a couple of years, merely because there is a bounty paid on them, unless it is economic for them to go in for a proper rotation of crops, they are destroying the land, and therefore, it is impossible to consider the Minister's Estimate and this Bill and the powers he now asks, without bearing in mind that his policy has fundamentally changed since he first introduced this cereals policy. At that time, the House will remember, he acknowledged that you must have a proper rotation of crops; that an increase in the cereals meant an increase in the root crops; and he acknowledged, equally, that an increase in root crops meant an increase in cattle. Now he has deliberately departed from that policy. The Government—and he is responsible for their agricultural policy —have deliberately taken measures to see that that cattle policy cannot be continued. They have made it uneconomic and they have gone in, as the Minister knows, and as the House will remember, for a deliberate policy of destroying the cattle, of destroying the calves, the future source of the cattle. I have never heard the Minister even attempting to deal with the various challenges that were thrown up to him, namely, that an increased wheat policy must mean an increased cattle policy and before the House permits him to tax, and to tax very heavily, the staple article of diet of the country, namely, the bread of the people, they should have a much clearer statement from the Minister than he has deigned to give the House on that particular point up to the present.
If you pay enough money, either by means of bounties or by exacting it from the eaters of bread, you will undoubtedly get people to sacrifice the future to the present. Speaking on a similar matter a couple of weeks ago, I instanced the case of a farmer who acknowledged that he was going to grow wheat this year and grow it next year on the same land, grow it the year after on the same land and grow it the year after that on the same land. He was asked why he was doing that and he gave what seemed to him to be the very solid reason, that, as a result of the policy of the Government, it paid because he got a bounty, and the other kind of agriculture for which he had gone in did not pay. It was pointed out to him, and he acknowledged the force of the argument, that it meant that he was reducing his land to a desert by that particular conduct. He said he knew that quite well, but what else was he to do? He was paid to do that and he was penalised, if he did not do it, if he kept to the old policy. In a double way, therefore, the Minister proposes further to force this policy on the country. He is going to tax, and tax very seriously, the bread of the people to subsidise wheat growing. After all, that is what it means, and he is going to make unprofitable the other type of farming, for which people have gone in up to the present and the success of which is really connected with the success of his own policy, looked at over a period of years, as he acknowledged himself on more than one occasion in this House. He is going to compel the people positively, by giving bounties and making the consumer pay, to go in for this type of farming and to make any other type of farming unprofitable.
What is he doing? This tax has been put on bread, on the most necessary article of food for every person in the country. You may dispute whether the exact amount of money that must be put on to the eaters of bread this year is £350,000 or £400,000, but on it must go. The Minister may say that the change is not a very great matter because if it did not come out of the bread it would have to come out of taxes anyhow, but surely there is a tremendous difference in the articles you select for your taxation. There might be an outcry, and there has, I understand, been an outcry, against certain recent taxes imposed by the Government on tea, sugar and tobacco, and it may possibly have come to the notice of one or two members of the Government Party. But suppose the Minister for Finance had proposed to put a tax on bread, what would have been the reactions to that proposal? Let Deputies ask themselves what they think would have been the answer of the country to that proposal. Yet is that not what the present Bill proposes to do?
The Minister may say: "We have exhausted all the other sources of income and"—as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance would put it—"why should not the labourer pay?" But, putting a tax on bread certainly passes anything the Government has attempted up to the present. I will admit that in their finances, they have reached a certain stage at which they have to tax the very necessaries of life. But the people could not have expected that they would put a proposal before this House, in cold blood, to tax bread. That is what it means. The Minister some weeks ago said: "We are proposing in the new Bill that is coming along shortly, to shift that subsidy from the taxpayer to the consumer." Leave out the words "taxpayer" and "consumer" and let us ask ourselves what it means. The consumer is the person who eats the bread, and you are putting a tax on bread. It has one great advantage, I will admit, from the point of view of the Government, in that you conceal it to a certain extent.
I am not denying that this Bill has certain advantages. I can well understand that the farmer is anxious to get his money as quickly as he can, especially at the present time, and possibly, although the Minister said that there were other reasons besides the reason of anxiety to get money, the experience of the Minister as to the different prices he fixes for the middle of January and the middle of December will bear him out in that. I am not at all anxious to deprive the Minister of any advantage which he can suggest that this Bill has for the farmer in that respect, but I am certain that it has still greater advantage for the Government, and it is by no means an isolated example of their policy. It is but one further example of the very objectionable system of taxation in which they have indulged for the last couple of years—that system of what I venture to call concealed taxation. Not merely is it indirect taxation, but it is taxation which need not be mentioned in the ordinary Budget, or need not be mentioned when the Minister for Finance is introducing his Budget statement. That was bad enough when you were dealing with articles like butter, or even sugar, but when you come to deal with bread it is much more objectionable. It is taxing the people's bread and not telling them you are doing it, or at least concealing from them as much as possible the fact that you are doing it. From the point of view of national control over finance, this method in which the Government has been indulging more and more as years have gone on is highly objectionable. But they have reached the limit, as far as taxation of that objectionable character is concerned, when they propose to deal with the most necessary article of diet in this particular way.
There may be differences of view as to the effect which the promise of this Bill has already had on the price of flour in this country. The Minister will remember that, when he was defending certain clauses in his Dairy Stabilisation Bill, he said the fact that the Bill was coming had already affected prices. He took that as a credit. It has been pointed out from this side of the House that already this Bill has affected prices, and that the price of flour has gone up. It has gone up in the last couple of months in this country, in anticipation of this Bill. If Deputies have any doubt about it let them look at—shall I call them—the very evasive answers which were given by the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, to the questions put to him not merely by Deputy Dillon, but even the lamb-like Deputy Davin. After all, even if he is a grown-up lamb, nobody can accuse Deputy Davin of a desire to hurt or damage the Government in any way. It is very remarkable indeed if he was satisfied with the replies which he got as to the effect of the cereals policy on the prices of flour and bread. I commend those replies, given in the month of May and the month of June by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, to the attention of Deputies. Let each Deputy ask himself whether the Minister for Industry and Commerce was really giving a straight answer. The price of flour has gone up. The price of household flour has gone up from 27/- in February, to 28/- in March, 30/6 in April, and 33/- in May. Those are quotations given to a Dublin retail merchant. Those figures relate to household flour; I am not speaking of bakers' flour, the price of which is much higher. Has the Minister considered what this means in the way of taxation on bread? The price of bread has already gone up, and the bakers have made it perfectly clear that any price which they have put on was not only called for, but more than called for by the increase in the price of flour. Let the Minister read the reason given by his friends the millers. It will be found that some of the reasons given were connected with the policy of the Minister.
The Minister is asking for this power to tax the bread of the people, because he claims that his policy is a success. The success which he claims for his policy is the increase in the acreage under wheat. If you pay high enough, undoubtedly you can get the people to grow anything. Has that increased acreage under wheat led to an increase in agricultural employment? Have the two things increased pari passu? There has been an increase in the acreage under wheat for a number of years, and there has been a decrease in the number of people employed as agricultural labourers. That does not suggest that power should now be given to the Minister under this Bill to tax the people's bread because he can get people to grow wheat, and because he can compel them to go out of cattle. In Leinster, between the years 1931 and 1933, there was a decrease of several thousands in the number of agricultural labourers. The figure was 5,000 odd in Leinster; 4,000 in Munster; and in Connacht practically 1,100. In all those areas there has been an increase in the amount of wheat grown. It is not that where wheat was grown the number of agricultural labourers increased, and that in counties where it was not grown the number decreased. On the contrary, in counties like, say, Wexford, which the Minister represents, you had a fairly considerable increase in wheat considering the size of the county, and a diminution of the number of agricultural labourers. The same applies to practically every other county. I, therefore, suggest that before the House gives to the Minister this power of covertly taxing the people's bread a little more justification of his policy is required than the number of acres which he had induced people to put under wheat. We have no idea of the cost involved.
The Minister—this is a matter of detail, but perhaps I might as well mention it here as it occurs to me—spoke of compelling the millers to provide certain accommodation in the way of storage and certain facilities for drying. They are to be compelled to do that. That cost, I presume, must also be passed on to the consumer, or does the Minister suggest that the millers will, philanthropically, bear it? Has the Minister any idea as to what that is going to cost? It will be an increasing cost if the policy of the Minister of an increased acreage under wheat year after year is to be taken into account. The Minister was, I admit, rather naive when he was dealing with the matter of storage and drying facilities and he confessed to a gamble—I can hardly call it anything better—that he brought off. I have seen statements about the weather in the newspapers—whether it is always wise to follow these statements or not is another matter—but only for a day ahead. The Minister confesses that if there had been a bad harvest, a wet year, as could easily have happened, owing to the fact that there was not in the country proper drying or storage accommodation, all those who had gone in for wheat growing in the last couple of years would have been ruined. It was a gamble on the weather and I admit it came off. It is now confessed that it was a mere gamble. The Minister acknowledged that the Opposition pointed out that fact to him. I hold when you are dealing with important matters of this kind, and especially with what was to be the sheet anchor in the Government agricultural policy, a gamble is not quite enough. A little foresight on the part of the Minister would have seen that proper storage accommodation and drying facilities were available before he entered on this policy. He acted without taking that obvious precaution. He was like a person who thought of taking money from the till, putting it on a horse, and hoping that he would be able to do more than pay it back. It was a gamble in that way. It came off, but we know what happens to people when the gamble does not come off.
There are a couple of other points of interest, but I presume the Minister can deal with them more fully in Committee. There is going to be a minimum price fixed for wheat. I notice the minimum price is to differ according to the quality of the wheat. The Minister will probably say: "Obviously so." What is obvious about it? You are deliberately doing an uneconomic thing in order to induce people to grow wheat, in order to induce this country to grow sufficient wheat for its inhabitants, irrespective of what it is going to cost. It may be £1,500,000 or £2,500,000, but you are going to do it and it will be uneconomic. Why discriminate against the unfortunate person who has bad land for wheat growing. His intention is as good as the intention of anybody else, but his wheat may not be as good. It is his misfortune if he has bad land. It would be uneconomic to pay him the whole price, but the whole thing is uneconomic from start to finish.
There is, as I have said, a minimum price. Where is the guarantee that there will not be evasion? I have heard of minimum prices being fixed for cattle and I have heard of minimum prices not being paid. There are many ways in which the unfortunate farmer can, in certain circumstances, be safely cheated out of his minimum price. If you catch the miller you could deal with him, but if he is an astute person—and there is nothing in this Bill or in the recent policy of the Minister to suggest that the millers are not astute—there is nothing to prevent him not paying the minimum price and still getting away with it. How evasion is going to be avoided unless you have a large number of officials, which, apparently, the Minister does not contemplate, I find it hard to understand. The Minister mentioned a diminution of officials that he anticipated under this Bill. What he indicated was that, in future, work that might be done by the Department will now be done by the millers. Of course, that will cost them something and they will put on the price either to the farmer or to the consumer. It may be a better way of doing the work, but you do not get rid of the cost of it by putting it from one set of people on to another set of people. Possibly in Committee the Minister will explain what is the precise procedure under Section 13. Certain methods will be decided on by the Minister as being the proper methods to determine the quality of wheat and no other methods can be used. I think that is the ultimate purpose of the section and that is to be carried out by the millers. Am I not right in that, too?