Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 15 Feb 1939

Vol. 74 No. 5

Committee on Finance. - Vote 52—Agriculture.

Go ndeontar suim Bhreise ná raghaidh thar £173,472 chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1939, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí Oifig an Aire Talmhaidheachta agus seirbhísí áirithe atá fé riaradh na hOifige sin maraon le hIldeontaisí-i-gCabhair.

That a Supplementary sum not exceeding £173,472 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March, 1939, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Agriculture, and of certain Services administered by that Office, including sundry Grants-in-Aid.

The first item in connection with this Supplementary Estimate is sub-head G (3), which amounts to £40,000 for a Fertilisers Scheme. The purpose of the scheme is to enable farmers to purchase manures at reduced prices. It is estimated that it will cost £88,000, but of this, only £40,000 will be spent in the current financial year.

Have not the heads of this been sent out?

Yes. This is Vote 52.

The attention of farmers has been drawn to the scheme by Press notices, notifications to secretaries of county committees of agriculture, and so on, and it is important to note that farmers are entitled to a reduction in price on purchases made by them since the 1st September last. This scheme will apply to the following manures manufactured by members of the Irish Fertiliser Manufacturers' Association, having their factories in this country:—(a) Superphosphates, including potassic superphosphate; (b) Semsol; (c) Ground North African phosphate; (d) the compound and complete manures manufactured by members of the Association as shown in their wholesale price list.

The scheme will also apply to similar manures supplied for use in County Donegal, which are manufactured in the factory at Lisahally, Londonderry, owned by one of the members of the association.

In respect of any of these manures supplied by members of the association during the period from 1st September, 1938, to 30th June, 1939, the Government will provide funds for the purpose of enabling farmers to obtain from their local retail merchants and co-operative societies rebates on the current retail prices, at the rate of 10/- per ton in the case of Superphosphates (including potassic superphosphates), Semsol and Ground North African phosphates, and at the rate of 5/- per ton in the case of the compound and complete fertilisers. At the discretion of the Minister these arrangements may apply to any quantities of these manures which the Minister is satisfied have remained on the hands of retail merchants or co-operative societies since the preceding season. The existing import duties on Superphosphates, Ground Mineral Phosphates and Compound Manures is to be continued, but as regards quantitative restrictions all applications for import licences, excepting those relating to compound manures during the period up to 30th June, 1939, will ordinarily be granted in full. In connection with the administrative arrangements of this scheme, the manufacturer here will send a circular letter explaining that, in order to encourage the more extensive use by farmers of phosphatic manures, and of compound and complete manures containing phosphates, the Minister for Agriculture has provided funds to enable certain reductions to be made— 10/- per ton of a discount in the case of Superphosphate, Semsol and Ground North African Phosphate, and 5/- per ton on the compound and complete fertilisers. It should be stated also in that circular letter that these rebates or discounts must be passed on by the retail merchants and co-operative societies to the farmer-purchaser.

The next item, sub-head I (4), deals with land reclamation in congested districts and other special areas. The amount is £2,380. Owing to adverse weather conditions it was not possible to close the 1937-38 scheme on 31st March, 1938. The expenditure not estimated for in the current financial year in respect of the 1937-38 scheme is £1,865.

Is this land reclamation?

In the congested districts and other special areas. In addition, it has been found necessary to employ six temporary assistant agricultural overseers to replace six assistant agricultural overseers assigned to higher duties during the operation of the scheme. This will cost £515. The next item is sub-head M (4)—Loans and Grants for Agricultural Purposes—a sum of £5. It is estimated that about £500 will be required for loans for the purchase or erection of poultry houses. This can be provided out of savings in the sub-head, but as the scheme is new it is necessary to obtain the sanction of the Dáil. Loans will not exceed four-fifths of the cost of the houses, and they will be repaid in four equal annual instalments with interest at 5 per cent. per annum. They will not be given in respect of an imported house if a home-manufactured one is available. Loans will not be given for a house costing less than £6 or a house or houses costing more than £50. In the Estimates for next financial year a provision of £10,000 has been inserted for the financing of this scheme of loans for poultry houses.

The next item—sub-head M (8)—has to do with expenses in connection with the provision of butter for winter requirements—£220,000. There is a number of items making up this amount. During the winter season, 1937-38, the statutory price of creamery butter was 120/- per cwt. The net value to the creameries was 118/-, that is, 120/- less 2/- carriage allowance—and this was increased by a production allowance of 11/- per cwt., bringing the net value to 129/- per cwt. This arrangement was continued to the 30th April, 1938. To finance the scheme for March and April, 1938, the cost was £37,400. From the 1st May, 1938, the statutory price of creamery butter was increased to 138/- per cwt. The net value to the creameries was 130/—that is 138/-, less 2/- taken off for carriage allowance and 6/- taken off for levy. This increased to 132/- per cwt. from 1st May to 31st July by a production allowance of 2/- per cwt.; and from 1st August to 30th November the allowance was increased to 7/-. That brought the net value of butter during that period from 1st August to 30th November to 137/-. The total cost of these allowances for the summer period is estimated at £150,000.

I only make 131/- out of that. You gave 130/- and took off 2/- and 6/-; that left 122/-.

We gave 138/- first, less 2/- carriage and 6/- levy. This increased by 2/- afterwards on production, and again on the 1st August by an additional 5/-.

You said 7/-.

The 7/- includes the two. The total cost of this scheme during the summer was £150,000. It was decided to bring the net value of the butter to the creamery up to 145/- from 1st December, but the retail price of butter was not raised until 10th December. Therefore, there were ten days during which this had to be made good to the creameries—that is, to bring it from 137/- to 145/-. That cost £3,150. On the 10th December, 1938, the statutory price was increased to 147/- per cwt. That gave a net value to the creamery of 145/- per cwt. In addition to that, there was an amount of £28,750 required for a special allowance of 5/9 per cwt. on butter put into cold storage from June to September, 1938. This is a contribution given out of the fund each year to cover the actual amount paid for the storage, insurance during the period, interest on the money invested in the butter, and the risk of losses, etc. It is calculated to be about 5/9 per cwt.

It will be noticed that these items which I have given relate to production and not to export. Hitherto this was done more or less by way of export bounty, which had the same effect, and it was taken out of the Export Bounty Fund. This year it was done by way of production, and therefore must be voted on the Agricultural Vote. But it is anticipated that there will be a saving of a similar amount on the Export Subsidy Vote.

The next sub-head is M (9)—Importation of Seed Wheat. Again, there is a token estimate of £5. Owing to the unfavourable weather up to at least a fortnight ago, conditions for sowing winter wheat had been below expectations, and it was considered necessary to make provision for the import of a larger amount of spring wheat than we usually import. It was estimated that we would require about 25,000 barrels above the normal quantity of spring wheat. The seed merchants were not willing to take the risk of the wet weather continuing from the middle of January up to, say, the first week in March, because, of course, if fine weather came in that period, a considerable amount of winter wheat would be sown, and the abnormal quantity of spring seed wheat might not be required. The Government decided to guarantee the merchants against loss on this additional 25,000 barrels, which is over and above what was brought in normally every year up to this. If the guarantee has to be paid in full, it will cost about £1 per barrel, or £25,000, but it is not likely that anything like that sum will become payable.

The next sub-head is O (8)—Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Acts—£625. In order to prevent imported seed wheat from being sold as home-grown, permits for the importation are issued only on condition that the wheat be stained by officers of the Department. It is estimated that this will cost about £625. There is, however, a payment of 6d. per barrel on each barrel imported, which will probably more than cover the cost.

The next sub-head is O (17)—Losses— £282. That amount is required to meet a claim against the Department in connection with an accident which occurred to the S.S. Lindenau on the 20th September, 1937, which was bringing a cargo of 202 cattle to Bremen. The vessel ran aground; the cattle were not injured, but there was some damage done to the ship. We do not insure the cattle, and the Department therefore had to pay a certain amount of the damage, which amounted to £282. I should like to say, however, that our total losses on risks of this kind during the whole period we carried on a trade in cattle with Germany was £1,710, and the insurance payments would have been £5,810, so that we made money on that.

Under Appropriations-in-Aid there is an estimated deficiency under various heads of £229,665. Under sub-head O (2)—fees in respect of butter exported—there were less exports than had been anticipated, which accounts for the deficiency under that head. As to sub-head O (9)—sales of butter and eggs—and sub-head O (11)—sales of cattle—the last agreement which was made with Germany provided for a change in the system carried on up to that. Up to that period we had exported butter, eggs and cattle to Germany, and the Dáil provided the money for carrying on that trade. But, in the recent agreement, Germany took on the purchase of butter, eggs and cattle herself and, therefore, from 1st January to 31st March, the estimated amount of eggs, butter and cattle we had put down does not require to be filled. Also, under sub-head O (11)— levy on the slaughter of cattle and sheep—we did not collect as much as we anticipated. There was outstanding on the 31st December, 1938, under this heading, £37,240. As to "recoupment of part cost of veterinary inspection of old and uneconomic cows," the loss under that arises from the fact that our agreement with the Roscrea factory ceased to operate during the year. As to sub-head O (12)—fees for cattle export licences—the same thing arises there. The number of cattle exported was not as high as had been anticipated. As to sub-head I (4)—additional repayments from the Vote for Employment Schemes in respect of the cost of administration of the land reclamation, etc., schemes — more money has come in from that than was anticipated. In the same way, under sub-head M (4)—additional repayments of agricultural loans—there was more money than we had anticipated. The next item is one to which I have already referred. That is the collection of 6d. per barrel on imported seed wheat to cover the cost of inspection and staining. That is estimated to bring in the sum of £1,300. I think these are all the items.

The first item in this Estimate is a provision of £40,000 for the subsidising of superphosphate of lime; or, as the Estimate has it, "to enable the farmers to obtain certain fertilisers at reduced prices." This subsidy will come to 10/- a ton on superphosphates and semsol, and 5/- a ton in the case of compounds and complete fertilisers. I want to represent to the House that this item represents a subsidy of £40,000 to Goulding & Son. You might just as well write a cheque payable to Gouldings, and hand them that cheque for £40,000, for that is all that it amounts to—nothing more.

Our farmers are denied the right to get superphosphate of lime at economic prices. There is a tariff of 20 per cent. on superphosphate coming from Holland. If we could to-morrow import from Holland superphosphate of lime, which is an essential raw material to the agricultural industry and an essential manure to our soil, we could sell this superphosphate of lime to the farmers in rural Ireland at £3 a ton instead of charging them as we are charging them now £3 15s. to £4 a ton. This subsidy will bring the price to the farmers down to £3 7s. 6d. or £3 10s. a ton. But that means that the distributor has virtually no profit at all. If I bought superphosphate of lime at Ballaghaderreen it would cost me £4 a ton. That would mean freight from the factory. It would cost me 2s. 6d. more or less in other centres according to their distance from the source of supply. If I could buy that superphosphate of lime in Holland, I could have it delivered in Ballaghaderreen at £3 or £3 2s. 6d. a ton. I said that the consumer could get that superphosphate of lime at 4s. a cwt. I want to correct that. The price to the consumer will be 4s. 3d. per cwt. because the distributor must charge something for distributing it to the farmers. This 10s. subsidy will reduce the price to £3 10s. or £3 15s. per ton according to the centre at which it is bought.

Now, if the tariff were taken off that superphosphate of lime we could, with the assistance of the subsidy, bring down the price to £2 10s. a ton, that is to say we would be selling it to the farmers at 2s. 6d. a cwt. Then we would be doing something that would be a real help to agriculture. But there is no sense whatever in passing on Monday, legislation imposing a tariff on superphosphate of lime for the benefit of Gouldings, and on Tuesday giving Gouldings a cheque for £40,000. That is only reducing the price by the amount whereby it was increased by the tariff. That is not a subsidy to the farmers; it is a subsidy to Gouldings. There is only one fertiliser manufacturer in this country and that is Gouldings, otherwise I would not have mentioned the name of the firm. The entire trade in fertilisers is under the control of Gouldings and every penny of that £40,000 is going to go into their pockets. What benefit are the farmers going to derive from that transaction? If you withdraw all your interference we would buy superphosphate of lime cheaper than we could buy it after you have paid out that £40,000 by way of subsidy. If you want to improve the land of Ireland I tell you you ought to take the tariff off superphosphate of lime. The subsidy you are giving is no use to the farmers.

There is no tariff on English superphosphate.

Yes, the tariff has been taken off the English superphosphate there. But the tariff on continental superphosphate is 20 per cent. It is from Holland this country was getting superphosphate, and we were getting cheap superphosphate. I make a suggestion and it is a constructive one. I know that Deputies opposite are protectionists and they are prepared to sacrifice agriculture to the industrialists. We have all to sweat blood in order that the industrialists in this country may grow rich. The ten-acre man and the five-acre man in this country have to sweat blood in order that Gouldings may grow rich. I make no appeal to the Party opposite in the name of the farmers of the country who are struggling to make ends meet. But I do make an appeal to them in the name of the land of the country. The land is the only asset we have and if its fertility is not maintained this country will be beggared. The land of Éire wants superphosphate of lime no matter in whose hands it is.

I make one suggestion to the Government. Let the manure ring in this country bleed the people as much as they want to bleed them in the compound fertilisers, but let us have superphosphate of lime in free of tariff. Take the tariff off the superphosphate of lime only and leave it on the compound fertilisers; let the manure ring rob the people as much as they like in the compound fertilisers. The Party opposite enjoys the spectacle of the small man being robbed by the industrialists. Well, let them enjoy that spectacle in the matter of the compound fertilisers but give the people some chance of living and take the tariff off the superphosphate of lime. That is the half-way house. The manure ring will grow fat on special potato manure, on the other special manures and compound manures that are tariffed and that the farmers have to buy, and Deputies opposite will be able to put their hands upon their hearts and say: "We gave the manure ring their pound of flesh; we only demurred when we were asked for a pound and a quarter of flesh." I only ask that the additional quarter pound of flesh be not taken off the farmers of this country. Let the manure ring relax their grip on that quarter pound and give the farmer the right to buy superphosphate of lime freely. The Government can have their tariff on semsol and the other compound manures. The tariff put on basic slag hits every farmer. I am prepared, from my own experience, to say that continental basic slag is a better manure than semsol or the other compound manures. British basic slag is no longer useful because the new British methods of steel manufacture produce a slag, the soluble phosphates of which do not exceed 19 per cent. and very often much less. This continental slag has a high soluble phosphate content. We can get the continental slag with a 40 per cent. soluble content and it varies from that down to 32 per cent. soluble. In addition to that it is comparatively easy to grind continental slag because it is much softer than the British slag. Basic slag is costing up to £4 10s. a ton down the country. If the tariff were taken off that the people would get it at £3 15s. 0d. or less. Take the tariff off slag and super and leave it on the compound manures. Then you will be doing something useful for the farmers.

The effect of the subsidy, as at present proposed, is simply to write a cheque on the Treasury and present it to Messrs. Goulding. That is all you are doing—nothing more. You are conferring no advantage on the farmers of this country, and you are simply adding insult to injury by depriving them of what they ought to be entitled to get. You do go and tell the people that they are receiving doles, grants and concessions from the Exchequer, when they know that, whatever the Exchequer is paying out, they are getting no benefit from it. Picture the feelings of a man who goes in to buy 10 cwt. of super which at present prices costs him at least £2. I am thinking now of the man with about 10 acres of land and not the fellow with 150 acres. This man goes in to buy a bag of fertilisers, a cwt. of nitrate of potash, and the same of sulphate of ammonia. His total bill will come to £4 or £5. He benefits under this subsidy to the tune of about 5/-, while Goulding's benefit to the tune of about 45/-. Surely that is silly?

I freely admit that, with the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, we got a great chance. One of the most exasperating features of the present situation is that if we only availed of that chance we could put agriculture in this country on its feet, and make it really profitable, but instead what are we doing? By our own folly we are now pauperising the people on the land, despite the fact that we have the opportunity of getting for our people a standard of living as good as they have ever enjoyed, and higher than that enjoyed by any other agricultural community in Europe. We will not do the things that we should do. We contemplate quite blandly the fact that their raw materials, the things that farmers must buy, are being made so dear that they are unable to get a profit on their work, in the knowledge that if we give the farmers a profit on their work every section in the community will benefit, and that if we fail to do that every section will perish. Deputies sitting on the benches opposite know that what I am saying in that regard is true, and yet they will stand by and tolerate their own Ministers bleeding the people on the land in order to fatten gentlemen who are bleeding unfortunate workers in back streets in the cities.

Why cannot the Deputies of the Fianna Fáil Party wake up to the fact that as legislators their primary duty is to do substantial justice between all citizens: that so far as the rich, powerful, well-organised manufacturer is concerned he is well able to look after himself, and that in regard to him we owe him no obligations other than those of pure justice; but that in regard to the people who are struggling to make a living, we are more than the doers of justice—we are trustees for them, and our duty is to look after their interests and to protect them. But we are not protecting them if we allow them to be exploited by well-organised industrialists who, in the classical words of Deputy Dowdall of Cork, are organised "to howl and howl and howl the moment they see upon the horizon the slightest threats to their purse". If anyone ever dares to raise his hand in this country to protect the people who live upon the land from the ravages of the people that Deputy Dowdall speaks of, then they will start howling and howling, and will bring all the power of their immense powerful vested interests to bear on anyone who dares to defend the persons that we are sent here to defend. When will the Deputies on the Fianna Fáil Benches realise that? When are they going to realise that, unless they are prepared to defend the small farmers of this country, the small farmers are going to be trodden into the dirt by the gentlemen whom Deputy Dowdall calls upon to howl and howl if they see any danger on the horizon to their purses.

The Government have borrowed this subsidy policy from Great Britain. It is a poor miserable subsidy, but even so I appeal to the Minister to give it a chance. Perhaps it is all he can afford. I am prepared to grant him that, although I think he might have been a little more generous. But even if it is all that he can afford he can still make it of use if he will take the tariff off superphosphates. I have no doubt that there are men sitting behind me who will take up the position that I am giving the case away, and think that I ought to attack the scheme much more vigorously and strenuously—that I ought to say that the whole thing is a fraud. I do think it is a poor scheme, but still I would like to save it for the people. Poor as it is I think that it can be made useful if the tariff is taken off the basic slag and the super. If you do that, and give the subsidy, we will get somewhere, but if you leave things as they are you will do nothing, except to give Goulding's a cheque for £40,000 for doing nothing.

So far as the statutory price for butter is concerned, I am glad to see that the price is rising. I would ask Deputies opposite if they remember the time when we said, prior to the last general election, that "we can foresee the day and are prepared to guarantee it on the Exchequer that the farmers of this country will get 5d. a gallon for their milk from the creamery." I wonder does Deputy Meaney remember that? The Minister for Agriculture went down the country and delivered speeches demonstrating that to give the farmers of the country 5d. a gallon for their milk would cost something like £7,000,000.

That is exaggeration.

In any case, it was something grotesque. But here is the price of butter at 145/- and the farmers are to get 5½d. and 6d. a gallon for their milk. The difference between the Minister for Agriculture and ourselves is that we can see some distance ahead while his entire attention is riveted on the tip of his nose.

The difference was that the people could see that what you said you would do you would not do it.

The people were assured by the Minister that he would never do it, whereupon they made up their minds that he certainly would.

That is very subtle.

The people here said, "We will do our best to do it, and we guarantee that the Minister is bound to contradict himself." I now come to wheat—poor, decrepit, downtrodden wheat. Deputies remember the time when we were told that we were to grow wheat in order to protect the people against the danger of starvation in time of war. Every poor simple Fianna Fáil Deputy believed that, but they heard the Minister for Industry and Commerce admit yesterday that he had no more confidence in the Minister's wheat scheme than I have, and that being so, he went to the millers and said, "Boys, the wheat scheme is all a cod; buy in a sufficient quantity of wheat to keep the country going, because the scheme of the Minister for Agriculture has gone up the spout." Is not that so? At this moment you are paying on your loaf of bread and on your cwt. of flour so much to the miller every time you buy a loaf or a stone of flour in order to guarantee that you will have a supply of foreign wheat in time of war. The Executive Council, of which the Minister for Agriculture is a member, has told you that they put no more confidence in his wheat scheme than Deputy Dillon does. They know that it is a cod, and that it has gone up the spout. They would not trust this nation to it for ten minutes, much less for ten years. In those cricumstances, does it not amount to fraudulent misrepresentation to be putting up posters all over the country and advertisements in the newspapers appealing to our unfortunate farmers to grow more wheat?

Presumably, the Deputy is dealing with the item for £5 under sub-head M (9)?

I am dealing with the item of £2,750,000 in the millers' back pockets.

By implication—that is the point.

That £5 is a token of the £2,750,000——

Which is not in this Vote.

Wait until I see where it is. I see here: "Importation of seed wheat: £5." Well, you have overlooked the important agricultural operation of staining imported seed wheat. We have a large staff in Merrion Street, pouring red ink over the seed wheat as part of the sow more wheat campaign, because some of the ardent patriots who are anxious to guarantee this country against oppression by the wicked foreigner, and secure food supplies, got the seed wheat and sold it to the millers, and put the money in their pockets. I move to report progress.

Progress reported, the Committee to sit again following the introduction of the Army Vote.