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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

State Aid to Farmers

State Aid to Farmers.

Loans have been raised, an enormous outlay undertaken to make railways and roads, and to bring more people, with the object of indirectly increasing the facilities for production. The railways pay about £2 15s per cent., leaving the balance to come out of the pockets of the settlers. Why should not the Government advance to the settlers to clear bush to make produce for the railways to carry? In this case the Government would have to lend only, and could easily do so at 5 per cent. The loans would be for a purpose that would produce a direct result; the returns would be within a year or two, or the payment might be for both interest and sinking fund to pay off the principal as for draining in England. Of course it would require rules for doing the work and inspectors, as was the case with drains made with loans by Government in England. The money would, however, probably have to be obtained outside the Colony, and this should be kept in sight. At present any action that tended to keep money out of the Colony played into the local money-lenders' hands, giving them a monopoly and the power to dictate the rate of interest, which, as their combination was pretty perfect, they took advantage of. If the Government made the advances at 5 per cent., there should bo 1 per cent, margin, practically doing away with the middle man—the lending companies' profits, which had drained the life of the country. The Government has made laudable efforts of late to prevent the speculator coming between the bonâ fide settler and the land, and so making a profit out of his need of a home; and on the same principle it is just as much bound to endeavour to prevent a middleman coming between the settler and the money he needs to borrow, and so preying on the settlers' necessities. This mode of borrowing from a middleman is most extravagant. The settler has sometimes to pay twice, or more, as much as the middleman does in London. The progress of the country's development is hindered by the objection of people to risk page 18 borrowing for the purpose at present rates. It would not follow thai the Government would have to make any great number of these loans, but should be in a position to make all those that were required to pay off the mortgages to the extent of two-thirds the value of the freehold. The Irish tenants were assisted by the Government to the extent of two-thirds of the value to buy the freehold of their farms, repayable in thirty-five years. The fact of the Government being ready to make the loans would bring down the rate of interest generally, and so all industries would be benefitted as well as farming. With proper care in valuing, if any of these properties came into the hands of the Government as mortgagees, there could not be much harm done with one-third margin, even if the valuation had been rather too much. That much opposition, difficulty, and objection will have to be encountered before a reduction of interest such as I have advocated is effected is certain, for the money-lending ring is well organised, Its ramifications extend in all directions, and many borrowers might be afraid to come prominently forward in support of such an endeavour. Once, on making the suggestion to some settlers who I knew were hardly able to keep off ruin, owing to the high rate they were paying, that the matter required ventilating and making public, they said that they were afraid that doing so would complete their ruin, would bring down the money-lender on them. They were afraid to discuss the question in public. Is this a condition of things for a free country, and one boasting the independence of its people? Talk of slaves and serfs! Well might the Premier (Mr Ballance) say that "the settlers were the bondsmen of the Loan Companies." This is the question at issue. Are the settlers, the people, to own the country with assistance from the money-lenders at such reasonable rates of interest as will give a fair share of the profit to borrower and lender; or are the money-lenders, as up to the present, to virtually own the country, barely allowing the people to exist? If the people are true to themselves, they will not rest until the reduction is made, nor until 5 per cent, is recognised as the limit of interest on mortgages of agricultural freehold land here as 4 per cent, is in England.

The people should not allow their attention to be diverted from this object. They have the power, and should not elect any member to the House of Representatives who is not pledged to work for the reduction of interest to the rate demanded, and who is not ascertained to be free from the influence of money-lenders. Some of these men, if in debt, would be afraid to advance their views, however honest. Nor are members of a page 19 Government or private members safe on this subject if they are shareholders in banks and loan companies, perhaps paying 15 per cent, dividends made out of the farmers. Such men could only be expected to be lukewarm supporters, if not actually public opposers, of a project that proposes to reduce the rate of interest at present received by the companies of which they are shareholders to little more titan half. In other countries, these money-lenders are now suffering great violence and indignity at the hands of a ruined and starving peasantry, and are being expelled the country. In olden times it was customary to extract some teeth sometimes, to induce them to disgorge some of their ill-gotten gains. I do not yet propose to advise such extreme measures, but I do advance the claim of the people of the Nation for a fair share of the produce of their labour. This is no mere petty party aim, but the undoubted good of the people of this country. The disunion of the people has been the capiitalists' and money-lenders' opportunity. Let the union of the people effect that just division of profit that individual effort never could. The New Zealand settler as a rule does not bring much capital into the country. The country is one that, good as it is, requires to be entirely developed by capital, or the equivalent, labor. It is therefore of the first importance to the settler that he should be able to borrow the money he requires at a low rate, and this is equally of importance whether the borrower is a man who, having saved sufficient wages, wishes to make a start with the aid of some borrowed capital, or whether the borrower has already secured a footing on a larger scale. In any case a low rate of interest allows of the employment of more labour, and I venture to say that I think that any Government having the prosperity of the country and its people at heart will give this subject earnest consideration.