I do not want at this stage to be drawn into a discussion as to the merits of different types of farming. I know, of course, that the urban mind, as I said last week, always expresses itself by saying: "If the farmer would only plough his field." The urban-minded individual would like to stand on the ditch, and watch the farmer ploughing his field in the hope that when the crop was sown and reaped, he would be able to squeeze it out of the farmer at the lowest possible figure. He would not be in the least concerned if the farmer were unable, from the proceeds of his labour, to rear and educate his family on the urban standards. That is not the sort of foundation upon which you will build up a decent people here.
The Minister in his speech in the Dáil, when this question of credit for farmers was raised, used an argument which in my judgment, and from my experience, does not hold water. He used a number of arguments. In fact, they were so interesting that I should like to read them to the House. He tells us, in one place, that there is a danger that, if you start to provide capital for farmers at, say, 3 per cent., people who have capital of their own, perhaps invested, would borrow this money at 3 per cent. and use it on the Stock Exchange. That, practically, was his suggestion. He tells us in another place that it would be impossible for the Government to carry through any schemes to provide capital for the farmers. "In the first place," he says, "you would be in this position that the Government would have to find an enormous sum and suffer a very heavy continuous loss for a considerable number of years, a loss that I could not put a price on, but it might be £1,000,000 or more." He goes on further and says that "if money can be got easily, it will be wasted and misused so that when we talk about loans for farmers we might as well say gifts for farmers." His speech was the most striking I have read for a long time but, with a great deal of what the Minister said, I do not agree. I say that with all respect, from my experience for seven years of the work of the Agricultural Credit Corporation and from my experience of dealing with farmers.
It seems to me that the Minister's point of view was that when people demand that the Minister for Finance should make provision for credit for agriculture, what they contemplate is that you are going to set up a great machine in the Ministry of Finance to dole out credits to farmers. Nobody, who has considered the problem, suggests that at all. I suggest that the Minister was talking raméis when he spoke about the Government being asked to face a loss of £1,000,000. I cannot conceive any scheme where there is the remotest possibility of their losing any such sum of money. It is very difficult to say whether any money put into agriculture is lost. In one way perhaps, you might say that the money made available in credits, might not actually show a return in interest, from one point of view. On the other hand, very probably you would have a considerable increase in the revenue collected because of the putting into circulation of these moneys. I suggest that there is no difficulty or danger whatever if the Minister will give to the Agricultural Credit Corporation £1,000,000. I was looking at their balance sheet recently. I do not want to discuss the affairs of the Agricultural Credit Corporation here but, in mentioning this, I am not discussing anything that is not public property. Their last balance sheet indicated that they have given loans to 18,000 people and the average loan amounted to £88 or to approximately £90. The total amount distributed was £1,600,000. If an extra £1,000,000 were made available to-day, even if you were to make it available at 3 per cent. and borrow it at 5 per cent.—which you would not have to do—£40,000 or £50,000 would bridge the difference between the 3 per cent. which borrowers would pay you, and the amount which you would have to pay to the public who would provide the money. You would pass that money over to that body and let them handle it as they have been handling other moneys, wisely and well.
I know it will be said that there are a great many people who are not credit-worthy. When is a man credit-worthy? Of course if you are going to charge 6 per cent. for that money, a man will have to be in a much stronger position to pay that 6 per cent. than if it were advanced to him at 3 per cent. A farmer who is given a loan of 3 per cent. would make money when it would be impossible for him to make money if he were charged 6 per cent. Even though there are a number of people who are not credit-worthy, I urge upon the Minister very strongly that there are decent citizens, men of character as a whole, thousands of them, men who to-day, from one stroke of misfortune or another, have had their lands depleted of stock, or who, through illness or for other causes which we cannot discuss here, find themselves without the necessary capital to stock their lands and put them in working order. I am not suggesting the Minister should in all cases take the risk of advancing capital, but that he should favourably consider a case where there are decent men, decent citizens, who will justify themselves and who will bring up families of decent boys and girls to do the country's work. Instead of many of the children of these small farmers being able to find work on their parents' land to-day, they are turning into the towns. They are attracted to the towns to get a few shillings on the dole, or they have to look for work on the roads. They are turning in any direction but to the land, which should be the natural place for them to find work.
There may be a number of people who are not credit-worthy. You will, of course, find in every grade of society a number of people who will not come up to one's standard of perfection; but the great bulk of our people on the land to-day, who want credit, cannot go on with that work unless they get credit. I would like to put this question to the Minister for Finance: Why does he differentiate between the people who are on the land to-day, and whose fathers were on it, and those others whom he talks about putting on new land? The Minister, in the speech to which I have already referred, said that the Government were going to spend approximately £7,750,000 to complete the provision of economic holdings in the country, and that of this capital sum no less than £3,750,000 was expected to fall as a direct responsibility on the Exchequer. I would like to know what is the moral justification, apart from any other question, which the Minister for Finance has to advance for undertaking the liability of providing £3,750,000 to provide new farms for new people, while at the moment we have hundreds of thousands of people on old farms who are without the necessary capital to work the land that they, and those who went before them, are in possession of. We learn that some of these new holdings are going to cost the State £900 each; others are going to cost approximately £700, while we have another class of holding which is being fitted up for people at a cost of £320.
The State is doing all that for one group of people, but I ask the House to think of the position of the others— those for whom I have been speaking. I cannot understand the attitude of the Government on this. Surely, it is not a wise or a good policy to break up holdings and start new men working on them—holdings that were being worked before the State intervened to break them up at a cost of vast sums of money to the taxpayers of the country; while across the fence there are holdings that are only half equipped for the proper working of which the Government say that no money can be found. I suggest that all those who are getting new holdings are not going to make a success of them. What about the people who do not succeed in getting land? Everyone who has had experience of the breaking up of estates knows well how narrow is the margin which decides whether I shall get a holding on one of these estates, or whether Senator Quirke shall get it. We all know of the grave dissatisfaction that exists as to whether the great benefit of getting a holding is to go to one man and be denied to another.
I put it to the Minister that he has a very grave and a very serious problem to consider. I cannot see anybody providing this credit, which is necessary for agriculture, other than the Government. The banks will not do it. If the Minister refuses to do it, I do not think it is the responsibility of the banks to do it. It is true, of course, that the banks have done a great deal in that respect in the past. In addition to this sort of credit you have of course a number of frozen loans in respect of farms. To-day you have farmers who may be described as distributed individuals. Some of them are a cause of social disturbance and unrest. What you should do is to try to make these men happy, progressive, intelligent citizens. In my opinion the only person who can do that is the Minister for Finance. I believe and am convinced that it is his responsibility.
With regard to the establishment of the Agricultural Credit Corporation, I myself was not satisfied that the method adopted from the beginning of financing it was the best that could be adopted to meet the situation. Nevertheless, in those days money was dearer than it is to-day. The Government have at their disposal all the experience gained since that institution was set up to work upon. I noticed the other day that the late Secretary of the Agricultural Credit Corporation, speaking at a social conference at Clongowes Wood College, addressed himself to this subject and pointed out how essential it is to make credit easily available for farmers. I know, of course, that the Minister for Agriculture argued that if you do that you are going to appreciate the value of stock out of all proportion to their real value. I do not agree with that. If such a scheme is to be operated it can only be operated by one body, and it will only be able to get into circulation a limited amount of money week after week. The circulation of that amount of money will not have such an effect on the fairs and markets of the country as to appreciate the value of stock beyond what is reasonably fair. On that point, I would remind the Minister that the Government, when operating its heifer scheme during the progress of the economic war, did so in such a way as to put the value of stock beyond their true value. The Government, under that scheme, provided a certain amount of money, and held sales at appointed places. The men who wanted cattle went to those places and bid for them, one against the other. If ever there was an appreciation of the value of stock beyond what was reasonable, that scheme did it more than any other. It certainly did it in a way that the ordinary administrative work of the Agricultural Credit Corporation could never do it, even though to-morrow the Government were to make available the sum of £1,000,000 for the use and benefit of farmers.
I strongly urge on the Minister that, come what may, this problem that I have been dealing with has got to be faced. There is no use in expecting that those who are working on the land to-day can bear the present burden of taxation unless they can produce and sell. They are not able to do that to-day because the facilities necessary for production are not available to them to the extent necessary.
The Minister for Finance is the only one who can provide those facilities. In fact, there is no other organisation in the country to do it. It may not be possible to make the Minister appreciate how urgent and essential those facilities are, but I want to tell him that every thoughtful man in the country to-day is convinced of the necessity of his doing this work.
People on both sides in politics and people who are not in politics have been urging the necessity for this during the past two years. It can be truthfully said that if the Ministry had been looking ahead and had provided these credits when the economic war was on, they could have stocked every unstocked farm in the country. They could have done that during the days when we could not send our cattle to England. By the adoption of that policy they could have stocked every unstocked farm in the country; they could have appreciated the value of the stock belonging to the men who had them and could not sell them. That is the policy that they should have adopted then, because they knew that some day the economic war would have to be settled. The Minister for Finance himself knew that, because many a time he gave an indication of the thoughts that were occupying him in those days. If the Minister and his colleagues on the Executive Council had been looking ahead in those days they would have made credits available. They would have taken the surplus cattle of the country off the markets and put them on to the unstocked farms, so that when the economic war was settled—and they knew it would have to be settled some day—the country would be ready to go ahead with 100 per cent. production. As I have said, there is no one that the farmers of the country have to look to for these credits but the Minister for Finance. Quite a number of the supporters of the Government Party are amongst those who are in a depressed condition to-day. Every section in the agricultural community is feeling the necessity for these credits. It is a social necessity, apart from being a national duty, for the Government to bring relief and hope to all those people. The payment of the land annuities and the experience that has been gained from the operations of the Act setting up the Agricultural Credit Corporation must convince everyone that if the farmer gets a decent chance he will honour his bond.