Committee on Finance. - Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Bill, 1935—Money Resolution.

I move: That it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas of any expenses incurred by the Minister for Agriculture or the Minister for Industry and Commerce, under any Act of the present Session, to amend the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Acts, 1933 and 1934, to regulate the sale and use of wheat grown in Saorstát Eireann, and to provide for other matters ancillary to, consequential upon or connected with the matters aforesaid.

On this Money Resolution I just want to make my position clear in regard to this cereals legislation. Unfortunately I was absent from the House, on the occasion of the Second Reading, engaged in an election contest in Galway, the result of which was very satisfactory. Therefore, I take this opportunity of recording my view that the wheat policy of the Fianna Fáil Government is pure, undiluted fraud, calculated to do nothing but harm to the agricultural interests of the country, and calculated, eventually, to place a burden upon the backs of the poorest section of the community which it is impossible at the present time fully to estimate. This legislation, in respect of which this Financial Resolution is moved, is designed to transfer the subsidy on wheat from off the Central Exchequer on to the consumer. An exactly similar operation was carried out in France several years ago. The net result was that such pressure was brought to bear on succeeding Ministers for Agriculture that the subsidy on home-grown wheat rose steadily and with it the prices of bread. Eventually political pressure having compelled Ministers so far to subsidise wheat, which at the beginning looked an attractive albeit a hopelessly uneconomic one, that you had the preposterous situation in which the central Government was paying three times the economic value of the wheat grown at home, and that was levied on the taxpayer to provide a bounty in the export of wheat to London, where they sold it for one-third of what they paid the French farmer; and the poorest section of the community were paying an altogether outrageous price for their bread.

Bread is the staple foodstuff of the poor. The richer the household, the less bread you see on the table. The poorer the household, the larger bread bulks in the weekly budget. So that of all the obnoxious taxes that can be imposed a tax on bread is the worst. This legislation is going to place a heavy tax on bread, and the worst of it is that while it does that it is foredoomed to failure—(1) because the land of this country can be used far more providently by the owners producing other agricultural crops than wheat; (2) because the quality of wheat we can produce can never compare with the quality of the wheat produced in Canada and other countries climatically suited to the cultivation of wheat, and (3) because inevitably we will reach a stage in which the Government will be compelled to increase the subsidy on the production of wheat, and the more successful the Minister's scheme for the promotion of wheat growing, the more certain it is that he will be travelling further and further along the field of subsidy until eventually anyone who wants cheap money will go into the cultivation of wheat. The ridiculous conclusion will then be reached that we will have a surplus of home-grown wheat which the Minister will have to dispose of in one way or another. We will have thousands of acres of land uneconomically used and we will have a burden placed upon the Exchequer of financing the disposal of unwanted wheat and yet we will have a dearer loaf.

And free bread!

I have such a high regard for Deputy Mrs. Concannon that I do not want to make a sharp reply. I only say that if Deputy Smith made that interjection I might be tempted to answer him.

I was too busy smiling to say anything.

May humour be preserved. Returning from the hustings I will not say anything in retaliation. Last year due certainly to the consequences I ventured to prophesy in connection with this legislation. Let me draw Deputy Mrs. Concannon's attention to what happened under an analogous scheme which was first adumbrated in the original Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Act, 1932-33. There we made provision for maize meal mixture, and it was prophesied at the time that any difference in price would be trivial. What are the facts to-day? The price of maize meal in Derry is £4 17s. 6d. per ton ex-mill. The price of maize meal mixture in Sligo is £7 1s. 6d. per ton ex-mill. And the Minister for Agriculture is, at this moment, contemplating an increase in the home-grown cereal content of that mixture which will increase the price even more. It has had the natural result of making the position of our livestock producers and agricultural feeders in this country very much weaker in competition with those who are producing similar commodities in the markets in which we habitually sell. The increase of price, which is going to be created by the Bill at present under consideration, is not going to be a question of increasing production costs. It is not going to be a question of making it more difficult to trade in foreign markets; it is going to be a question of putting a tax on every loaf of bread going into the houses of the poor in this country. Deputy Mrs. Concannon knows that what I say is true that the better off the household the less bread there is on the table, and that the poorer the household the more bread there is on the table. This is a tax upon the poor. I have said in this House that nothing would induce me to change one rood or acre of my land either to grow wheat or beet. I am not now dealing with the economics of beet in this connection. But, I will not grow one rood of wheat when I know that in order to do it I am actually taking money out of the pockets of the labouring man who is working for me. Every rood of wheat I grow means that I am making a deduction from the already inadequate wage that I am paying to the agricultural labourers who are working for me. Every penny profit that any farmer in this country gets out of the growing of wheat under this legislation is coming out of the pockets of the poorest of the poor. Every penny profit he gets is taken out of the pockets of the agricultural labourer to whom he is already paying an inadequate wage. Rather than make a profit at their cost, I would prefer to let my land go waste. I am glad to think, the present Minister for Agriculture notwithstanding, that I am able to keep going with a very small loss every year and still pay a wage that I am not ashamed of.

On whom do you make your profits, so?

John Bull. Again I have to plead that I have come back from the hustings and I am liable to be a little tart, but I do not wish to start on that note. All I ask the House to remember is that every penny that goes to finance this legislation is going to come out of the pockets of that section of the community to which we should not turn unless the whole existence of the State is at stake. We are going to turn to them in a way that will make it impossible for Deputies of this House to keep track of the extent of the burden which you are going to put upon them. So long as we had it coming before us, year after year, in the Vote for the necessary subsidy we knew what we were doing. Now it is going on to the loaf and Deputies know how frightfully difficult it is to arrive at a true figure when you start trying to discover costs of production. Deputies know how unsatisfactory are the reports of the Prices Commission. Producers, millers and shopkeepers can so confuse facts that the layman can extract little or no truth from them. I detest this legislation for the reasons I have set out and in order to take this opportunity to record my conviction that it is going to do an inestimable injury to the country, that it is going to do an inestimable injury to the entire agricultural community inasmuch as it is going to turn them, on growing this crop, into dole-gatherers, dependents on Government charity, applicants for increased bounties and subsidies—inasmuch as it is going to put a tax for a most unworthy purpose, on the poor, almost exclusively —because the well-to-do if they do not wish to contribute to this tax can buy other food—I am going to divide the House on this resolution. I only wish that some of the more intelligent Deputies of the Fianna Fáil Party had their freedom to do what I have no doubt they would wish to do, vote against this tax. I look with confidence to the Labour Party for their support against something which they always professed to abhor, a tax on bread.

I rise to offer my protest against the money being provided for this purpose. I shall take the word of the Minister given here in the last fortnight when he made the boast that this year the Government intend to secure the growing of 200,000 acres. I put him a question at the time to ascertain how much per acre it cost for the past year to subsidise wheat. He said that they had paid a subsidy of 6/6 per barrel. I asked him how many barrels he allowed to the acre and he said seven. I pointed out to him that the published figures were eight barrels per acre. Taking these figures, it would mean that the subsidy per acre was £2 12s. Calculating it at £2 10s. per acre, the 200,000 acres which the Government propose growing this year would mean a subsidy of £500,000. To supply our full requirements we are told that it will be necessary to grow 850,000 acres. Working that out at a subsidy of £2 10s. per acre, it means that the total subsidy required for the acreage necessary to supply our full requirements would be £2,150,000. I support Deputy Dillon in opposing this Vote. I believe that it takes about 2,600,000 sacks of flour to supply the wants of the Irish people. When the position at which the Government are aiming is reached, and when we are growing 850,000 acres of wheat and producing 2,600,000 sacks of flour, the subsidy alone on that acreage will amount to £2,150,000. But we are told that the taxpayers will have to pay 16/6 per sack. I put a question to the Minister for Agriculture on that occasion. I asked him who was going to pay the subsidy. "Well," he said "in the past the taxpayers did it but under this Bill we are going to put it on the consumer." I asked the Minister: "Who is the consumer?" Does not everybody know that the consumer and the taxpayer are one and the same person? I am repeating this argument again in order to show the bluff that the Government Party employ with regard to this question.

Deputy Dillon has put before you the position with regard to the price of fine meal. The constituency which I represent is a rather poor constituency but the people there are industrious and in the past they bought thousands of tons of feeding stuffs. On every occasion on which the opportunity arises I must stress the fact that you are putting a burden of £2 or £2 10s. per ton on these people. The argument might be used that there are Deputies on these benches who stand for a policy of wheat growing. That is none of my business. As long, as I am here I am going to do my duty to the people I represent and I am not going to be carried away by an argument of that sort. Many of the people in my constituency have not a market at any price——

That surely does not arise on this Bill.

I am just referring to it in passing because it is the policy of the Government that has brought it about. I should like to know if the Minister has gone sufficiently into the question of the cost of production. I believe the price of wheat is going to work out at something like 25/- per barrel. With the yield at eight barrels per acre, £10 would be the average return from each acre of wheat. I would like if the Minister in supporting the motion gave some figures on this question. I am sure the Department has gone into the question of the cost of production.

The Deputy will have an opportunity of raising that on a section of the Bill.

I might as well get rid of it now as I have nearly finished.

It would be quite in order on that occasion, but it is very doubtful on this.

A thing you will never get tired of is telling the truth.

The Chair might get tired, not of hearing the Deputy telling the truth, but of hearing the truth repeated too often.

I think the Minister ought to give us an idea of the cost of production, because even in to-day's paper there is a letter from somebody who suggests that it costs over £10 per acre. Looking at the matter from my own point of view I certainly think it would, when you take into account the cost of the seed and the fact that the State has to pay a subsidy of £2 12s. per acre. I should like the Minister in concluding to give us some idea of the cost of production of wheat in this country.

Deputy Dillon has undoubtedly made a tremendous case against the Cereals Bill by reason of the increase which it will cause in the price of bread. Undoubtedly, the way in which he presented the case to the House makes it very difficult indeed to reply adequately to that argument against the Cereals Bill. But the extraordinary thing is that, whereas certain Governments are paying premiums to people to destroy wheat, other Governments are paying subsidies for the growing of wheat. As long as certain Governments continue that method of interfering with certain commodities, then other Governments will have to take means of protection. In this country a position arose in which the grain-growing industry was undoubtedly suffering from intensive competition, with the result that something had to be done as far as the actual producers were concerned in the grain-growing counties. It is purely on behalf of the grain growers that I am now speaking. I quite understand that in the Free State there are certain counties where grain growing hardly exists. I quite understand that if I went down there I would certainly be violently opposed on any argument that I might put up on behalf of the counties where grain growing is one of the chief sources of revenue. The result is that until we come to the stage, to which Deputy Dillon believes we will come, that 700,000 or 800,000 acres of wheat will be grown and wheat growing will become general, I can understand that there will be opposition to it in many parts of the country.

Deputy Dillon has stated that it is his intention to divide the House on this money resolution. I quite agree with everything he said as far as the price of bread is concerned. He dealt with it from the two extremes of the rich and the poor. But there is another class of people in this country, the middle class, who, in my view, receive very little consideration on many matters that come before the House. As I would probably not be allowed to develop that matter I am going to refrain from making any reference to the ordinary middle class people. In conclusion, I may say that I regret very much that I cannot follow my respected leaders on this side of the House into the Division Lobby. I will be compelled, on account of my constituents, to vote in favour of this money resolution.

It is very interesting sometimes to watch the antics of the Opposition when discussing matters of this kind in the House. We have heard Deputy Minch explaining his position with regard to this money resolution. He explained that he was a representative of a constituency that went in largely for grain growing and proceeded to say that if he were in the position of other Deputies of his Party, who represent other constituencies in which grain growing is not so popular, he might have taken a different view. He concluded by saying that because of his position he did not propose to follow his leaders into the Division Lobby on this question. That is all very interesting indeed, especially when you come to compare that attitude of his with the attitude of other members of his Party when we were discussing other measures in relation to agriculture. We had here some time ago——

That does not arise.

I think for the purposes of analysis I should be allowed to explain.

Order, order.

I suggest I am entitled——

Deputy Dillon was not here when, on the Second Reading of this Bill, two members of this House, who are very near him at the moment, were precluded from discussing the original Act as quite irrelevant. When amending legislation is before the House, the main Act to be amended may only be discussed in so far as it is affected by the amending legislation. If I might say so, two or three speeches, which were brief and which I did not therefore interrupt this afternoon, were not in order.

Of course it could be truthfully said that I, too, was absent from the House when this matter was being discussed. I take it, therefore, that you, Sir, would be prepared to concede to me the same facilities.

I am not prepared to listen to references to the conduct of Opposition Deputies on matters not relevant to this Bill.

I do not think I am going very much out of order.

You attacked me about things that I never said at all.

Deputy Dillon has suggested that he, as a member of this House, and in so far as he can be described as a farmer, would not indulge in the growing of wheat. He went to great lengths to explain his reasons for that. As far as Deputy Dillon's assurances in such matters are concerned we cannot, looking back on his past record in this House, pay much heed to these assurances and promises. I remember the same Deputy saying in this House that he would not take off his hat for the National Anthem, and a month following that assurance I saw him on a political platform, with the late leader of his Party, General O'Duffy, actually contributing, in so far as he could, to the singing of the National Anthem.

I am beginning to regret my mildness.

So that, in so far as Deputy Dillon's assurances are concerned on matters of that kind, we are not, I think, to take them very seriously. He went on to deal with this matter of the production of wheat and drew a comparison between this country and France and referred to the surplus which the French people had to dispose of as a result of the policy operated in that country. Surely Deputy Dillon knows that, so far as the production of wheat is concerned, we are very far from having a surplus —that it is estimated that it would take at least the product of some 800,000 acres to give us sufficient wheat to meet our requirements.

If you pay enough you will get 800,000 acres of pine-apples.

It is estimated also that we will produce about 200,000 acres this year, or one-quarter of our requirements. Deputy Dillon also knows, when he talks of increasing the price of bread to the labouring man, that there are other agricultural products which we have had to subsidise and to stabilise and that we have been compelled to ask the consuming public to guarantee to the producers of these products a price that would keep them in production. I need only cite the matter of butter. Because we realised that the production of butter was essential to our economy, and that farmers would not stay in the production of butter if the price they were to receive was to be determined by the price in the world market, we had to ask the consumers here to keep the farmers in the production of what we regarded as an essential commodity. I say that we are just as much entitled to say to the consuming public that wheat is an essential of any well-balanced economy and that we are justified in asking the consuming public to guarantee to the farmers who produce it a reasonable price.

The Deputy does not realise that there is no analogy between the two cases.

It is all very well for Deputies to talk about the price at which foreign wheat can be purchased this year or could be purchased last year. How are we to know the price at which foreign wheat will be purchased next year and, in fact, whether we will get a sufficient supply of that wheat? I do not think that any reasonable, intelligent or patriotic man in this House will say that it is an unwise and bad policy to encourage and induce our farmers to grow what is, in Deputy Dillon's own words, such an essential commodity as wheat, which goes to make our daily bread. I cannot understand the mentality of Deputy Dillon in this matter. I appreciate very fully the attitude taken up on this question by his colleague, Deputy Minch. Deputy Minch represents a grain-growing area and Deputy Bennett a dairying district. I am sure that when both Deputies get talking this matter over they will see that it is only by cooperation between all the districts in the country that we can reach real solid conclusions on it. I submit that it is quite wrong to approach consideration of this question by saying: "Well, this does not suit my particular district, and I am going to vote against it." This is a very big question that affects the whole community and we must look at it from that point of view. The growing of wheat has to be looked at from the point of view of the nation. Therefore, the Government are justified in their policy. They will continue that policy despite Deputy Dillon's opposition to it. They will push it forward so as to ensure that all our wheat requirements will be supplied by Irish farmers and by Irish labourers from Irish land.

Motion put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 54; Níl, 41.

  • Aiken, Frank.
  • Bartley, Gerald.
  • Beegan, Patrick.
  • Boland, Gerald.
  • Bourke, Daniel.
  • Brady, Brian.
  • Breathnach, Cormac.
  • Breen, Daniel.
  • Briscoe, Robert.
  • Carty, Frank.
  • Concannon, Helena.
  • Cooney, Eamonn.
  • Corish, Richard.
  • Corry, Martin John.
  • Crowley, Fred. Hugh.
  • Crowley, Timothy.
  • Keyes, Michael.
  • Kissane, Eamonn.
  • Lemass, Seán F.
  • Little, Patrick John.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • Maguire, Ben.
  • Maguire, Conor Alexander.
  • Moore, Séamus.
  • O'Grady, Seán.
  • O'Reilly, Matthew.
  • Pattison, James F.
  • Daly, Denis.
  • Derrig, Thomas.
  • De Valera, Eamon.
  • Doherty, Hugh.
  • Donnelly, Eamon.
  • Flynn, John.
  • Flynn, Stephen.
  • Fogarty, Andrew.
  • Gibbons, Seán.
  • Goulding, John.
  • Hales, Thomas.
  • Harris, Thomas.
  • Hayes, Seán.
  • Hogan, Patrick (Clare).
  • Houlihan, Patrick.
  • Kelly, Thomas.
  • Pearse, Margaret Mary.
  • Rice, Edward.
  • Ruttledge, Patrick Joseph.
  • Ryan, James.
  • Ryan, Martin.
  • Ryan, Robert.
  • Sheridan, Michael.
  • Smith, Patrick.
  • Victory, James.
  • Walsh, Richard.
  • Ward, Francis C.

Níl

  • Belton, Patrick.
  • Bennett, George Cecil.
  • Bourke, Séamus.
  • Broderick, William Joseph.
  • Burke, James Michael.
  • Burke, Patrick.
  • Coburn, James.
  • Cosgrave, William T.
  • Costello, John Aloysius.
  • Curran, Richard.
  • Daly, Patrick.
  • Davitt, Robert Emmet.
  • Desmond, William.
  • Dillon, James M.
  • Dockrell, Henry Morgan.
  • Fitzgerald, Desmond.
  • Fitzgerald-Kenney, James.
  • Holohan, Richard.
  • Keating, John.
  • Lavery, Cecil.
  • MacDermot, Frank.
  • McFadden, Michael Og.
  • McGilligan, Patrick.
  • McGovern, Patrick.
  • McMenamin, Daniel.
  • Morrisroe, James.
  • Morrissey, Daniel.
  • Mulcahy, Richard.
  • Murphy, James Edward.
  • Nally, Martin.
  • O'Donovan, Timothy Joseph.
  • O'Higgins, Thomas Francis.
  • O'Leary, Daniel.
  • O'Mahony, The.
  • O'Sullivan, Gearóid.
  • O'Sullivan, John Marcus.
  • Redmond, Bridget Mary.
  • Reidy, James.
  • Rice, Vincent.
  • Rogers, Patrick James.
  • Wall, Nicholas.
Tellers: Tá: Deputies Little and Smith; Níl: Deputies Bennett and O'Leary.
Motion declared carried.
Resolution reported and agreed to.