The Minister for Industry and Commerce on Friday expressed a desire to learn more about the policy that was being advocated by this Party in connection with agriculture. From his remarks, it was evident, in the first place, that as far as he was concerned, he had no knowledge of what the Government's policy was in regard to agriculture, and that he had not perceived any alteration in that policy for the last few months. In the course of his observations, he said that he thought the year 1931 was probably the worst in the history of this country for agriculture. He asked how we stood with regard to the Derating Report, and recommended that some of us should read it, probably forgetful of the fact that it was part of our duty to have read it, that, it is now seven or eight years old, and that as a matter of fact if one were to examine some of the observations of the commission, it should be much older even than that. It is interesting to note how the prices of agricultural produce in the course of the last six years compare with those of the year 1931. In the year 1931, agricultural produce had an index value of about 110 as against 100 in 1913-14. The figure has dropped during these last six years, taking an average for the whole period, to about 90. It is fairly clear then that there can scarcely be a comparison between the conditions which exist to-day and those with which the last Government had to concern themselves in 1931.
It is quite clear from the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Derating that they found that there was no case for derating at that time. They gave many reasons for it. They examined the case very exhaustively and went to great pains to present a report that was of very considerable value. In the course of their observations, they went on to say that, having regard to the fact that derating would entail additional taxation, they were not prepared to make a recommendation in favour of that policy. It is fair to say in connection with their recommendations that they did make, as I have already stated, exhaustive inquiries, and in paragraph 154, page 68, of the report, they said:
"As the result of an investigation recently made for us by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, it is estimated that the percentage of de posits in the Post Office Savings Banks which may be attributed to agriculturists rose from 27.1 per cent. at 31st December, 1926, to 28.3 per cent. in 1927, 28.9 per cent. in 1928, and 29.1 per cent. at the end of 1929. It was also found, as a result of an investigation made for us by the Bank of Ireland, that the proportion of its deposit accounts attributable to agriculturists rose from 51.03 per cent. at the 31st December, 1925, to 52.32 per cent. at the end of 1929; and there is no reason to think that this experience is not typical of all Saorstát banks."
This report was signed on the 20th April, 1931. It will be served that although it is dated 1931, the end of their inquiries was dated 1929 as regards the Post Office Savings Bank and the Bank of Ireland.
Let us compare the situation to-day with the situation as it existed then. There has been a contraction in these last few years in deposits in the banks. Reference was made by at least three of the chairmen of banks here in this country, at their annual meetings this year, to the fact that they had noted that there had been a withdrawal of deposits in their country districts, that these withdrawals indicated that there had been a difficult time for agriculturists and that it was symptomatic of the situation that prevailed in the country. It is quite clear from all the information at our disposal that, however profitable agriculture may have been in the last six years, it can only have been profitable if very considerable savings were made in expenses, because I have not been able to discover in any case that the retention of the home market, which was one of the planks in the policy of the Government, was of any value to agriculturists, that in fact less goods were consumed, or, at least, that the goods consumed by the agriculturists themselves were of less value, that less were sold to the non-agricultural community, and also that there was a very considerable drop in our exports in the last few years. If, then, there had been prosperity in the last few years, it must have been brought about by a drastic cutting down of expenses.
But, as a matter of fact nobody would be so foolish as to make the case that agriculture was profitable in the last few years except the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Taking the year 1931 and comparing the total amount of our agricultural produce exported in that year with the amount exported each year since it is quite clear that our exports have gone down to the extent of over £10,000,000 per year. That is an entirely different situation from what was presented at the time the report on derating was signed. There are, however, recommendations in that report concerning which very little, apparently, has been done. They are to be found on pages 71 and 72. They deal with the extension of the measures taken for the improvement of live stock and the provision on suitable terms of additional pedigree stock to promote the breeding of horses, cattle, sheep and pigs; the encouragement of the best methods of feeding and managing live stock, an extension of the measures taken to raise the milk yield of dairy cows and a more active encouragement of cow-testing, the promotion of poultry-keeping and the encouragement of the best methods of rearing and feeding poultry, the extension of improved marketing methods, etc. It is not necessary to go through the whole list. It was obvious having regard to the fact that there were agriculturists on that commission, that there would be such sensible recommendations. The Government at the time, notwithstanding the fact that the commission reported against derating, made provision for a further £750,000 in the relief of rates on agricultural land, because there had been even during the period that the commission was sitting, a drop in the index prices of agricultural produce. The attitude taken by the then Opposition, which is now the Government, was that £750,000 was not enough, that it should be £1,000,000. That was under the circumstances I have started, when there had been an increase in the deposits in the banks, and in the Post Office Savings Bank, attributable to agriculture.
We are now in the position when we see money that was saved for a time of difficulty in a time of prosperity being drawn upon. If we just take one example of what happened during the last few years, it will be found, in fact, that arrears of Land Commission annuities have increased very considerably over any correspondings period in the last 40 years. If anybody in these circumstances suggests that a case will not be accepted to relieve and improve the position of agriculture, then I fail to know what would influence the mind of the Government. It is very remarkable how the trade of Australia, New Zealand and Canada has improved with Great Britain during the last six years. They have increased their exports, and have had very large sums of money—far greater than they were in receipt of in 1931. Some of the figures in connection with the exports of these countries are almost unbelievable and, in our view, if we are to increase the prosperity of this country, we must bend our minds and our energies towards increasing the profitable production of agricultural goods. Whatever we may have to do in connection with industrial expansion, and in the use of industrial goods, it is obvious that we will have to depend on our own market here to the extent of 95 per cent. In the other case, we have the opportunity to export far more agricultural produce than at present. It is within our own competence, and ought to be our business, to see what particular lines of agricultural produce are most profitable for us to export. Looking over the returns of agricultural stocks it sems there is not much of a reduction during the last six years, but there is a reduction. I merely refer to the percentage.
Anybody in business knows that the difference between good business and bad business in 5 per cent. one way or another. If the normal trade is taken at £100, and if the business is down to £95, the business is bad. If the normal trade is £100, and business is up to £105 the business is good. So with agriculture. The reduction must be taken into account with the reduction of deposits in banks. If those engaged in agriculture have to draw deposits from the banks and, at the same time, reduce stocks, it is obvious that we are up against a difficulty, but it is not by any means an unsurmountable one, because there is this difference between the policy of the two Parties, that while for the best part of ten years we heard nothing but whines and wails, prophecies of bankruptcy and statements about the downward trend of things, we are perfectly satisfied that, with an effort, and with inspiring confidence and efficiency on the part of those in authority, there is an opportunity to rehabilitate agriculture and to restore the prosperity which the Government's policy during the last few years has damaged so considerably. If agriculturists had to sell more of their stock, have smaller stocks now than they had six years ago and if, in addition, they had to withdraw money from the banks and are in greater debt than they were then; if there has been a reduction in the population, and a movement from the land towards the urban districts and cities, as the case may be and, if we are interested at all in maintaining the population on the land, and getting value out of it. we must bend our minds and energies towards making it possible for them to earn a decent livelihood on the land.
Some extraordinary things have happened in the last few years. Many calculations could be made to show what have been the losses incurred. Some people had to put fat stock out on the land and to reduce them from fat stock to stores in order to cash them. In these cases the losses have been simply colossal. It is quite true perhaps that certain people have been able to have a fairly prosperous time during the last few years. I remember that one member of this Party who was a Deputy in 1929-30, but is not now in the Dáil, presented cattle for sale at a fair in December, 1932 and was offered 20/- per cwt. which he refused. The total weight of the cattle was approximately 150 cwt. He brought them over to Scotland or England, and allowing for what he paid for the transport over, and the penal duties over the amount of bounty he received, he netted 29/4d per cwt for the cattle for which he had been offered 20/- per cwt. here, or something over £70 more. I suppose that was the only man at the fair who had resources for sending cattle across or who had, perhaps, the business experience to do it. It benefited him in many ways financially. He was an exporter and he was entitled to licences but the average farmer or the typical farmer throughout the country was not entitled to the one and did not know how to get the other except to pay for it. So, during that period, there were many middlemen who did fairly well but, if they did, it was mainly at the cost of the industry of agriculture. Consequently, in my opinion at any rate, there is a very different situation existing to-day from what there was when the derating Commission Report was signed. As a last and final reason, the principal objection to providing extra moneys for derating at that time was that it would have entailed extra taxation and industry was not in a particularly prosperous condition at that time. The industrialists would have been called upon to pay, I suppose, about half of what the cost would have amounted to, but, since that time, both industrialists and agriculturists have been taxed to the tune of about £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 a year. And still they have not got derating. Practically all the taxes that were mentioned as being necessary have been added on, even though for a period some of them may have been relaxed, so that the last case against derating goes.
We are not exactly wedded to derating. If the Government have a better scheme for putting agriculture on its feet we would be glad to hear it. Having made a market available which one might almost say had been closed to the industry of agriculture for the last six years, it is not enough merely to mark time. It is not enough to concern ourselves with the figures on one side or the other. There ought to be, and there can be, economies effected during the next 12 months which will enable this money to be found, or, as I have said, a better scheme if we can hear it. But in the present condition of agriculturists generally throughout the country what they need is some easement of the burden that they have borne, some accommodation, whether by credit facilities or other means of that sort, at any rate, some consideration on the part of those who have been so responsible for the difficulties which have beset agriculture during those last few years. If we can manage to restore the prosperity of that industry in this country we will find that some of the problems that agitate the minds of persons who live in municipalities or urban districts will be lessened, and that the prosperity which will come to agricultrue will benefit other fields of activity in the country.