I should like to remind the Minister that the record of the Fianna Fáil Party, where old age pensioners are concerned, has been one of meanness. In 1928, the old age pensioners were receiving 10/- a week. Fianna Fáil came into office in 1932. They remained in office for 16 years. When they were put out of office, the old age pensioners were still getting 10/- a week. Those who were hungry and destitute were catered for through the boards of assistance in the urban and rural areas. They got a grant of 2/6 a week. The inter-Party Government made that grant part of the permanent pension. They incorporated it in the pension itself. That applied to all old age pensioners.
The point is that, despite the rise in the cost of living, despite the steep increase in prices during the War years and in the years after the War, from the time Fianna Fáil first took office, they kept the old age pension pegged at 10/- a week. The first effort made to bring that 10/- higher was made by the inter-Party Government in 1948.
This latest effort by Fianna Fáil is an insult to old age pensioners when it is compared with the increase of £12 10s. a week to judges. The £12 10s. is retrospective to 1st of last November. That is the increase for people in receipt of salaries in the region of £4,000 or £5,000 a year. The increase of 2/6d. a week to the old age pensioners will be paid as from August next, if the old age pensioners survive to draw it. Consider the inhumanity and injustice. Judges are compensated for the increase in the cost of living by £12 10s. a week; old age pensioners are compensated by 2/6d. per week. That is the attitude of the Minister and his colleagues.
Government Deputies speaking in this debate were at pains to forget that the cost of living has been deliberately and positively increased beyond the capacity of the ordinary consumer. The ordinary consumer can no longer make ends meet. Consumers are paying up to £11,000,000 more now for their tea, bread, butter, and sugar, and the other basic essentials, than they were paying when the inter-Party Government were in office. But there is not a word about that. Remember, too, that it is only some of the old age pensioners, those at destitution level, who will get this increase of 2/6d. a week. It is only those in receipt of 28/6d. a week who will get the increase. The others— there are many of them—will get no increase. Because they were in insurable employment and had stamps during the specified period, they will not get one penny. They are not even to get this one shilling per week which the Minister said would be sufficient to meet the rise in the cost of living. Those old age pensioners will not get any increase and the same applies to the other classes who are receiving contributory pensions.
This increase is payable only to those who are on the destitution level. The Minister knows that it must be a miracle for any old age pensioner to make ends meet on £1 8s. 6d. a week at the present time. The loaf of bread has increased in price from 9d. to 1/3d. and the 1b. of butter from 2/10d. to 4/5d. and these are the increases which had hit the people on destitution level. No attempt has been made by the Minister in this Budget to meet his responsibilities in this respect. But they are not the only pensioners who were insulted by the attitude of the Minister in this Budget. I refer to the Service pensioners, the Guards, the Army, the retired civil servants, teachers and officials of local authorities.
In the course of his speech the Minister said that if he were to bring up the pensions of these people to the level to which they ought to be brought having regard to the increase in the cost of living over the last few years, if he were to treat them honestly and fairly, it would cost him £1,300,000 in a full year. He said that the country cannot afford that and that the Exchequer position precludes, acceptance of a commitment of this order for Service pension increases. He will not give them the £1,300,000 to which they are entitled. Instead, he throws half of that amount to them and gives them £675,000. He is also saving by deferring the payment of these decreases until next August but the judges were able to be paid their increases as from last November. The Minister will get out of it as cheaply as he can with the result that the Service pensioners will get only £450,000 between now and March.
The Minister also decided to distribute £2½ million and on this occasion he decided that the people who should get the largest cut of that were the largest farmers in the country and that the smaller the farmer the less he would get. He was able to find only £1,000,000 for the people on destitution level but he was able to provide £2½ million and to tell us that he had a system of distribution whereby the largest farmers would get the largest part of that. It amounts to about tenpence a week to some of the smaller farmers but it will amount to over £10 a week for some of the larger ones. He was able to give the largest increase to the largest farmers just as he was able to give a 12½ per cent. increase to the judges as from November. That has been the attitude of this Government in recent years.
I was glad to see that the Minister, in this Budget, recognised the importance of making industrial concessions. It is a welcome feature of the Budget that he has arranged to make facilities available for industrialists who desire to replace their machinery by modern equipment. I regard his decision as somewhat late having regard to the possible effects of the Common Market and to the possibility of a decision being reached very soon in relation to that body. There will probably be a stampede for that money on the part of two types of industrialists. The first are those who will be able to meet and beat the challenge of the Common Market. They will at once get into top gear and take advantage of the new situation. The second are those who, if they are to survive at all, must immediately discard their existing equipment and undertake the expense of replacing it in the hope that they will survive.
In relation to our industrial position I feel that I ought to quote a remark made by the Taoiseach in relation to the dangers that may come from the Common Market. He said: "In their present state many Irish firms and industries could not survive free competition from imports". It is almost the death knell for all the boasting of the Fianna Fáil Party in relation to industry when the Taoiseach makes a remark to the effect that, in their present state, many Irish firms and industries could not survive free competition with imports.
These people also will have to seek facilities, through the financial arrangements proposed in this Budget, to get machinery and equipment quickly to see if they can survive the competition that will arise in the Common Market. It certainly will have very serious effects for this country.
We had better examine all the implications. Unfortunately, the full implications of this Common Market arrangement are not properly appreciated or known to the public in general. Consider the acquisition of land and property in this country. If hard currency comes in here and starts to buy up property and land, the Irish will certainly be bought out of Ireland. The ordinary value of an acre of land in Germany, I believe, is about £450 to £500 compared with the £100 or £150 an acre for which land is available for sterling. Therefore, we may find a situation here that, when we are in the Common Market, a German will have every right to come over here and bid at an auction and buy our land. There will be plenty of hard currency available from Germany to buy up this kind of real estate. The same, but not to such a dangerous extent, may apply to the purchase of house property.
There is a definite value on the total amount of land and property in this country, it does not matter what it is. Supposing we say this country can be bought, lock, stock and barrel, for £50,000 million. It may look a lot of money but it is not, when we consider the budgets of America or England, for anything between £5,000 million and £20,000 million. This country can be purchased, lock, stock and barrel, by ordinary bidding at auctions, if steps are not taken to ensure that property will not pass out of the hands of Irish nationals into the hands of those who compete against them at free auctions. That is just one of the many implications which may come from the Common Market and which we should be ready to face.
Great credit is due to many public officials and to many people who have specialised in a study of the Common Market issues and the dangers that are there so that the public in general can be warned. This being an agricultural country, it is reasonable to expect that in the Common Market, there will be very great opportunities and advantages for the produce of our land, provided we can specialise in the marketing of that produce. That is why people are looking forward optimistically to the possibility of our joining the Common Market.
Naturally enough, we must wait and see whether Great Britain will join and the conditions under which she will join the Common Market, before we can make a final decision ourselves. However, if they do decide on favourable terms to join the Common Market, this country can look forward to great opportunities and benefits for our agricultural economy. We must face the fact that the industrial side of our economy will suffer to some extent, though many industries will get advantage and will prosper in the new economy.
Generally speaking, the policy of Fianna Fáil for this country has been a drastic failure. Their speakers have been boasting about the employment situation and the economy in general. They fail to admit that there are 50,000 fewer people earning wages here than five years ago; yet they boast about the employment situation. They use the labour exchange figures — the number of persons registered as unemployed—to support their argument. If a man cannot get a day's work in this country, he cannot survive and he must emigrate. There have been shocking figures for emigration from this country during the past five years.
This time last year, or slightly later, the census figures became known. We found that the number of people in this country was at the lowest level since the Famine. So much for the policy of Fianna Fáil. They have been in office for approximately 24 years. In their 23rd year of office, a census showed that our population is the lowest since the Famine. The measure of any national policy should be the vigour of the population and its constancy. We have seen a fantastic drop. If we examine the emigration figures, we find that during the Fianna Fáil 24 years of administration, over 1,000,000 people have emigrated from this country, 250,000 in the past five years. Those figures certainly do not give the Fianna Fáil Party any reason to boast.
On the other hand, if we examine the previous census figures—I think, the 1951 census figures—we find that the number of people had come up to the highest level for, I think, a couple of decades previously. It was certainly the first time the population figure showed an upward trend. I have heard the Taoiseach and some other Fianna Fáil speakers boast in recent times that our population is on the increase, that emigration is down, that employment is up, and so on. I have given the facts. I have shown that there are 50,000 fewer people earning wages in this country than five years ago. Last year, the census showed that we have the lowest number of people in our country in recorded history. These are just pointers. They are the things that show the results of policy and the bad results of the Fianna Fáil Party.
Some previous speakers could not think badly enough about the two inter-Party Governments—the two occasions during the past 14 years, or, indeed, during the past 28 years, when Fianna Fáil were removed from office by a majority of the people, by a majority of the votes. But during those two terms of office a great headline was set.
First of all, in 1948, when the inter-Party Government came into office we found the people of Dublin city crying out for housing accommodation. We found them sleeping in stairways, landings and corridors. We found them making an attack on a building in O'Connell Street in 1948 because while cement could be got to improve that building, no cement could be got to build houses for women and children. The inter-Party Government were able to embark upon a vigorous housing programme with the result that during their two terms of office there were over 50,000 houses built. Fianna Fáil can have the balance for themselves. I think it is 25,000.
In addition to that, the two inter-Party Governments were responsible for the reclamation of 1,000,000 acres of land. There is an extra 1,000,000 acres of fertile land in this country now. Since Deputy Dillon became Minister for Agriculture that land is in production. If there is any prosperity and if there are opportunities coming to us from the Common Market those 1,000,000 acres will certainly mean a lot for the country.
When we hear about the 1956 balance of payments, the need for imposing levies and for remedying our financial position, if we examine the figures we will find that there were more houses built in 1956 than in any year since. The levies caused considerable hardships. Many people did not agree with them. They were imposed in September. Deputy Lemass at that time said it was a poor effort and that it was not just good enough to remedy the financial situation we found at that time.
We had to make this adjustment because the terms of trade had turned against us. We were getting less for the goods we exported, agricultural goods, livestock and industrial products. We were getting less than we had been getting in previous years. At the same time, the price of everything we had to import in 1956 had gone up. There was a steep increase in the cost of imported goods and we were getting less for the goods we had to export. The result was that in September, 1956, it was necessary to bring in what appeared to be a drastic arrangement —a levy on a number of less essential commodities. Certainly, it was not like the levy on the loaf of bread, increasing its price from 9d. to 1/3. That was not the kind of levy. It was a levy on lawnmowers and umbrellas — items that were non-essential although they were associated with the ordinary running of domestic life.
If we examine the figures we find that from September the position continued to get worse. Unemployment continued to increase until it reached a very high figure. When we come to the June figure and particularly to the September figure of 1957—only 12 months after it was necessary to bring in these corrective measures—we find the graph of our financial position had, as a result of this correction, begun to improve. That is where Deputy Sweetman proved to be right in spite of the hardships that came upon us. It may have been bad politics on the part of Deputy Sweetman but it certainly was good economics. That was proved because, in fact, changes came about in our economy. Less than 12 months after Deputy Sweetman embarked upon that policy and decided to take these corrective measures, the curve in relation to our financial situation went in the right direction and has so remained.
It has been traditional with the Fianna Fáil Party, and it continues to be so, never to show much interest in the farming community or in the improvement of our agricultural economy. If we examine the figures we will see that, in fact, nearly 300,000 people left the land since Fianna Fáil came into office first. Only last year 7,000 people left the land. This year it is almost certain to be 10,000. I refer to farm labourers. It is almost certain that 10,000 people will leave the land during the present financial year.
This is described as an agricultural country but if the people who work the land and get the wealth from it which can be exported leave the land, who is going to get the wealth out of the land to continue the most important part of our economic strength, that is, our agricultural exports?
If we examine the Book of Estimates we see that taxation has been increased by about £50,000,000 since 1957. We well remember that at that time, when the total bill was somewhere in the neighbourhood of £100,000,000, the Fianna Fáil Party said it was just dreadful and if they got an opportunity they would cut down expenditure and would not have this three figure Budget of £100,000,000 but now they have jacked it up to £162,000,000 themselves.
It is a very high amount of taxation for such a small population. In fact, the taxation on every man, woman and child in this country is approximately £7 per head, which is a dreadful tax. Apparently, no effort is being made on the part of the Government to bring incomes up to the level which would enable the population to pay such a heavy tax.
The cost of living has gone up 20 points approximately since 1956. A rough calculation, which I think would be right, is that one point represents approximately £1,000,000, so that every time the cost of living goes up by one point the consumers, that is, the persons who must buy the items contained in that list for the purpose of calculating the cost of living, have to pay an extra £1,000,000 for the commodities within the list.
Rates have gone up about £4,000,000 in the past four years—to such an extent, in fact, that there was an agitation which spread like wildfire throughout the country among the farming community. They felt the rates burden imposed on them by the Government by the various Government schemes was beyond their capacity to pay.
The result was that over 100,000 farmers gathered in the various towns —3,000 in one, 6,000 in another and 10,000 in another—to protest against the rising rates and the added tax burden. They agitated particularly against the rise in the health charges. The rate in the £ being charged in order to meet the cost of the health services in most counties now is the biggest proportion of the rates bill. In many cases, the health charge on the rates now is higher than the charge for construction work and maintenance of public roads which was always the highest charge on the rates. The farming community found they could not bear this any longer and they crowded into the towns and cities to protest. As a result, the Minister decided in this Budget to relieve them to the extent of £2,500,000. As I have already stated, the biggest farmers get the largest share of that sum.
In the course of his Budget Statement, the Minister mentioned that he intends to increase the cost of the Social Welfare stamp as from January, At the moment the cost of the stamp is very high, both for employers and workers. As from January next, the Minister proposes to get from these two groups another £1,500,000 in extra payments. Each group will be asked to contribute an extra £800,000 and of course the State will contribute a further £800,000, making an added total sum of just under £2,500,000. The extra £1,500,000 which employers and workers will thus pay will bring their contribution up to £12,000,000, a very steep increase.
In addition to that burden which the Minister proposes to impose next January, we had the announcement from the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs a few weeks ago of the increase in the postage rate of 33? per cent. Many people affected only in a small way by that increase, do not realise what it has meant to business people. There are plenty of small business concerns throughout the country whose weekly letter postage bill is not less than £12. You can take it at 80 stamps to the £ and 150 to 180 letters a day in the case of most of these firms. This new increase will mean that their bill will be increased to £16 a week. That is a very serious tax but it is far worse in the case of firms whose annual bill for letter postage is in the region of £2,000. There are many in that class of business in this city. This new increase will bring their postage bill up by over £600 a year. Of course it does not affect the ordinary person who buys only the odd stamp but it affects the business community very seriously. Many of them employ large staffs in that connection.
Re-examining the figures we find that since 1956 there has been a drop of approximately 30,000 in the number of farm labourers employed. That shows the trend, and if my forecast of a further drop of 10,000 this year is correct, it means that since 1956, 40,000 farm workers will have left the land. Of course, it will be said that we have brought in machinery to take the place of farm labourers. It will do certain types of work but the farm labourer is still necessary. It is he who does the thinking, who plans the work, who gets it done in the time necessary. Accordingly, we cannot be satisfied that machines will get from the land the wealth that is there, unless we have a sufficient number of workers to direct operations.
I noticed from the Minister's statement that the value of our agricultural exports has reached a very high level. That is to be welcomed. It follows the pattern set by Deputy Dillon when he took over as Minister for Agriculture. It is worth while to study the figures again in that respect. We find that, in 1947, just before Deputy Dillon became Minister for Agriculture, the total value of our agricultural exports was £39,000,000. When Deputy Dillon was leaving office, the value had reached £131,000,000. He was associated, of course, with the 1948 Trade Agreement with Britain which brought considerable trade and increased prices, with consequent greater income, to this country from its agricultural exports. As I have mentioned, the 1947 figure of £39 million was raised by the inter-Party Government to £131,000,000, so it can be said that the agricultural policy pursued by the inter-Party Government brought considerable prosperity to the farming community during those years. It was certainly its mainstay and is still.
Let us look at the industrial side. What has actually brought to this country the growth and the industrial expansion which we have witnessed today? It is, of course, the 1956 Finance Act brought in by Deputy Sweetman. It was the first Act of its kind and it encouraged people engaged in industry to expand their industry and seek markets for their products. They were told that if they would manufacture goods, market them and export them, the manufacturer and the industrialist would get a special concession in relation to the profits they would make from the goods exported.
I mention the 1956 Act because it has set a headline. In the years since, some further Acts have been brought in, of course, the Shannon Development Act in particular which extends the facilities available to manufacturers and industrialists. All credit to the Government for introducing those Acts but we must not overlook the fact that the headline was set by Deputy Sweetman, and it is as a result of his Act that we now have a considerable industrial expansion and prosperity from industrial exports.
A peculiar thing we notice in the statistics, too, is the very small average earnings of our farmers. There are something like 350,000 agricultural holdings and when we divide the number of farms into the actual total income from agricultural exports, and home consumption of course, we find the earnings of the farmers are on average very low. In fact, they are less than the minimum wage of an agricultural labourer. It is very difficult to understand how they can subsist on their earnings, taking the average.
At the moment the terms of trade are very favourable and we are benefiting from that situation. One of the Deputies across the floor of the House mentioned the fact that the national debt has increased considerably, but it is obvious that that increase is no harm to the nation, provided we get something in return. We have got 100,000 houses for it; we have many other facilities such as water and sewerage; we have transport, planes, airport and other developments. I agree with the speaker who said that we must be careful to ensure that the national debt does not reach a level at which the taxpayers will not be able to pay the interest on it.
At the moment the taxpayers are paying something around £23 million or £25 million in interest on the national debt. Naturally enough, when the debt is being increased, we must take steps to ensure that it is not increased to such a figure that our taxpayers will find it absolutely impossible to pay the interest charge. It is hard to decide just how much they can comfortably pay in the form of interest. I think it should be measured by whatever amenities are provided from it and whatever profit they can get from those amenities.
We consider the Budget this year a very poor effort. It gives no guidance. There is no pointer in it, nothing which will expand our economy in respect of either industry or agriculture in any dramatic way. There is no indication of any type of new national development; there is no indication of any kind of economic plan or any new approach in relation to the possible effects of the Common Market. The Minister has announced no scheme in his Budget which would give us an opportunity of debating its merits. In fact, there is nothing in the Budget but the insult to the old age pensioners, the mean 2/6 a week which is emphasised by the fact that only a few weeks ago the judges got retrospective allowances of £12 10s. a week.