I want to make it clear that we oppose this Bill and we shall divide against it because we are satisfied that its purpose and its inevitable consequence are that the whole system of providing a guaranteed price for this crop is being swept away by this devise. Heretofore a price was guaranteed, if possible, in the month of September, and any farmer who desired to sow winter wheat or spring wheat was informed of the price he was entitled to get for the quality of wheat produced by his sowing. Under our Administration, it was our practice to give that guarantee, not for one year, but for two years, further to help farmers to arrange a programme of cropping of their land which would conform to the requirements of their particular system of husbandry.
Under the procedure envisaged in this Bill, it is proposed that the Minister should make a declaration as to the standard price for wheat but that, in the July following that declaration, he is to take counsel with the Minister for Industry and Commerce and determine, in the light of crop prospects then existing, what the surplus of wheat is going to be. I want to state positively that there is no means available to any Minister for Agriculture accurately to forecast the yield of the wheat crop in the month of July. Therefore, I believe that that pretence is fraudulent. No accurate estimate can be made in the month of July of what the wheat yield will be.
Nevertheless, the Bill requires the Minister to do that in consultation, not with An Bord Gráin, not with any farmers' organisation, but after consultation with the Minister for Industry and Commerce who, in this discussion, represents the millers and the bakers. Having determined this purely artificial concept of the surplus, he then hands over to An Bord Gráin the function of determining what levy is to be made per barrel of wheat on the farmers who grew it in order to meet the losses in which An Bord Gráin will involve themselves when disposing of the surplus which actually materialises when the wheat crop has been gathered. All this elaborate procedure, which is provided in a Bill of 25 sections and a Schedule, is, in fact, a smokescreen behind which the Minister wants to do that which he has not the moral courage to do openly and publicly.
I conceived it to be my duty when I was Minister for Agriculture to reduce the price of wheat. Having taken that decision and submitted it to the Government of which I was a member and having had their approval for it, I conceived it to be my duty to come to this House and to defend that decision in this House and explain the reasons why I had come to that decision and face the criticism that that decision involved. But, at least, those who were then concerned to criticise me knew the price farmers were going to get and were in a position to challenge it on the ground that, in their judgment, it was insufficient.
What Deputy to-day knows what the farmers will get for their wheat? The standard price is declared to be 78/6 per barrel for wheat bushelling 64 lb. wheat or over, with a moisture content not exceeding 20 per cent., but that is subject to a levy which is to be determined in the light of a surplus to be declared, according to the Minister, some time in the month of July but he declines to reveal yet, until Dáil Eireann has adjourned, what the amount of that surplus has been determined to be. I think this is disreputable fraud.
Now, Sir, the Minister may say to me and, in fact, has said across the House: "I gave my word that I would make a statement in regard to the question of surplus before the end of July. By that I regard myself as bound and I do not feel constrained to do more." I want to test that undertaking, Sir, by an undertaking I have had from another Minister in exactly the same circumstances.
The Minister for Industry and Commerce gave precisely the same undertaking in this House when we were discussing another Bill. Deputies will remember that on the occasion of the discussion of the Tea Bill we asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce: "Do you give us an undertaking that anybody who is not a member of this firm that you are setting up will enjoy equality with the members of the new tea importing firm if they bring in their own tea?" The Minister for Industry and Commerce said: "I pledge my word that that shall be so" and Deputies will remember that that pledge was most specifically repeated in the Seanad. I now assert that, in defiance of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and with his consent, the tea importing body set up under the Tea Bill levies and proposes to levy 3d. per lb. on every lb. of tea brought in by somebody who is not a member of the firm and, on the Minister's attention being directed to that fact, he throws his hands in the air and says: "There is nothing I can do about it."
Am I to be asked to accept the undertakings of the Minister for Agriculture, which are not incorporated in the text of this Bill, in the same session that I have been asked by the Minister for Industry and Commerce to accept the most unqualified undertaking which has been recklessly and ruthlessly disregarded? On reference being made to the Minister who gave the undertaking, that Minister has said: "Whatever I undertook to do in the Dáil or in the Seanad I am not able to do. They are entitled to get 3d. per lb. for tea".
I do not know what the Minister for Agriculture is going to do or is not going to do under this Bill. I do not know who he will or will not put on An Bord Gráin but, so certainly as we are in this House, the purpose of this Bill was to create the impression in the country that the reduction in the price of wheat this year was due to the performance of the farmers themselves in disposing of the surplus wheat and not the responsibility of the Minister who makes it.
Now I understand that this year, before there was any estimate made of the crop, before there was any estimate of the levy requisite to cover the loss on the disposal of surplus wheat, the Minister for Finance went to his own constituency a month ago and announced that the levy this year was to be 6/- a barrel. I do not know whether or not that is to be honoured but, most significant, he did not go on to say "and next year it will be the same." I invite Deputies to recall that, when I conceived it to be my duty to come into this House to tell Deputies what the price of wheat would be, I told them what it would be this year and next year and I told them they would have two years' notice hereafter. All the information that we have to-day is that the Minister for Agriculture says he does not know, the Minister for Industry and Commerce says he has not been consulted and the Minister for Finance says it will be 6/- a barrel this year and there is no reference at all to next year.
That is the performance of a Government, of a Minister, and of Deputies notably Deputy Corry, who is here to-day and who assured the electors that if he were returned to this House as a member of the Fianna Fáil Party, he would see the price of 82/6 paid or he would know the reason why. Deputy Corry is to-day treated like a penny boy and he will be frogged into the Lobby to vote, not for an increase of 5/- a barrel in wheat, but for a reduction, the amount of which he does not know, this year, next year or the year after.
I would be the last in this House to denigrate the Party system. It is a good system and it helps to make Parliament function. It is a shocking thing when it is used to make a dishcloth of a representative of the people. There are several Deputies in the Fianna Fáil Party who pledged their word in public to their own constituents that they would see the price of wheat not only maintained at what it was but raised to the figure fixed by the late Deputy Tom Walsh when he was Minister for Agriculture, 82/6 a barrel. They are now going to participate in the lily-livered fraud of these proposals.
Let me make this clear because it is important that it should be made clear. I have been a Minister for Agriculture and the colleagues I have around me have had the responsibility of government upon them. I am not denying for a moment that a problem exists which has to be met. What I am repudiating with emphasis and contempt is the fraudulent device produced by this Government in the futile effort to cover their own tracks. They knew of this problem just as I knew of it three years ago, two years ago, last year. While it suited them they denied it existed and they sent out their dupes to purchase votes with the fraudulent representation that they could undertake the impossible. They got those votes and got these poor dupes elected to this House by fraudulent misrepresentation, which possibly their dupes did not themselves realise was fraudulent. I want to fix responsibility clearly where it belongs. Perhaps some of these unfortunate men went out and gave these undertakings believing that when they came into this House they would be able to redeem them and now discover they were being treated like fools, sent on the ignoble fool's errand of deceiving people who trusted them, being used to garner for this Government by fraud the votes they could not get honestly.
It is a shocking thing to see men who have spent a large part of their existence in the public life of this country reduced to the situation in which the members of the Fianna Fáil Party find themselves to-day. It is a shocking thing to see men experienced in the public life of this country driven into the Lobbies like cattle into a slaughterhouse because those who vote for these proposals with the Fianna Fáil Party to-day, if they do not surrender their lives, surrender their honour. They do it under compulsion and they do it under a compulsion that should not have been brought to bear upon them.
I deplore this Bill because it brings not only members of the Fianna Fáil Party into contempt and ridicule before the people but it brings this House into contempt. It disgraces us all and I was not surprised to hear the Minister for Agriculture say here yesterday when challenged on the merits of this Bill—having experienced what he must have experienced in the Fianna Fáil Party room, the abject submission to his arrogant insolence— that although it amused him to speak here he did not feel energetic and so he would not bother.
I want to sound this note of warning to the Minister. He can do that without detriment to this country in the seclusion of his Party room. If he can find Deputies to take it from him, he is free to do it there, but he cannot do it here. I begin to doubt if his Taoiseach is still capable of controlling the Government because there was a day when he, as Head of the Government, would not have allowed that to be said by a Minister of his Government. I recall that the present Minister for Agriculture was ejected from that post before for the language he used.