The idea of the Minister for Finance making such a comparison is certainly beyond me. I have suggested that a basic industry like the flour industry should be treated in the same way as the creamery industry was treated, and I also want to suggest very seriously to Deputies in every Party that we should carefully distinguish between the entrance of a foreign firm to set up an entirely new industry and an invasion to smash an existing industry. It is certainly, I think, conceded on all hands that this is an age of trusts and combines, and that the day of the small miller is gone. But I think it is up, primarily to the Government, but also to us, as the representatives of the people, to choose between allowing the flour milling industry to be controlled by and from Liverpool, or by the Government of the Free State. That is the issue before us at present, and, notwithstanding the fact that there has been a lot of wild talk in the country, and that possibly some of the Government Party may think an attempt was being made to stampede them, or certain of their members, into doing things, because of a certain agitation, the Government should be big enough and great enough to seize this opportunity and do the right thing towards this basic industry of ours.
Let us examine the position in so far as it relates to the number of mills working in this country. There are in the Free State to-day, as far as my information goes, 43 milling plants, of which 14 are silent; two were burned. These are the figures which I got and I believe they are nearly correct—I do not want any small point to be made, for instance, that there are only 13 silent when I said 14. I am giving the figures which I got from authoritative sources, and they leave 27 plants working, some at half time, some at quarter time and so on. But I do know that a great number—what the exact number is I cannot at the moment say—are not working to their full capacity and have not worked to their full capacity for many years.
The mills working to-day produce roughly one million sacks of flour. I understand that to meet the requirements of the Irish people we would have to produce two million sacks of flour. In other words, the position to-day is: we are producing 50 per cent. of our consumption and we have to rely upon Britain for the other 50 per cent. If our mills were enabled to work at full capacity, I am not going to suggest at this moment that they could produce all the flour that would be consumed in this country, but they are capable of being developed and, even under existing circumstances, if they get a chance, they are prepared to produce 75 per cent. of the requirements of the people of this country, leaving 25 per cent. of the flour to be imported.
In asking that the Executive Council should frame a scheme of national control which would provide adequate safeguards for the Irish milling industry and for the consuming public, I want to say that this is not an original idea. It is not new by any means, for a scheme of this character, perhaps with some variation, is in operation in Spain, Portugal and Switzerland. Some system approximating to what I have indicated may be also in existence in other countries but I have not heard of it. I have given this matter some little thought and I have gone to some trouble, by way of research, during the last week or so, but that is the only information that I can glean in relation to precedent anywhere as regards the class or kind of control exercised in other countries.
I have here some proposals which I understand have been handed to the Department of Industry and Commerce recently. It is my opinion —an opinion which I know is shared by very many members of all parties in the Dáil—that these suggestions would form the basis of a scheme of national control which should engage the attention of the Executive Council. I want also to say that these proposals are not cast iron; they require revision. They have been submitted in the very best interests of the State and the industry, and they form the genesis or basis of a good, sound and progressive economic policy, peculiarly adapted and suited to the requirements of our country. The proposals are as follows:—
"A permanent Flour Commission would be established whose members would have an independence something akin to the Currency Commission. Inasmuch as the members of the Commission will have very drastic powers and highly technical work, it is thought its personnel requires careful consideration. Its objects are so specialised and its task, especially at the commencement, so difficult that we think it must have pretty extensive judicial powers. The difficulty is to combine expert technical knowledge with the functions of the judiciary. We (that is, the different merchants and flour millers) are of opinion that the best method is to have a Chairman of the type of Judge O'Brien, Chairman of the Railway Tribunal, who will have the exclusive and final decision on such matters as fixing of prices, the determination of import licences, and the admission to the Register of Importers. The Chairman's tenure of office should be secure and his salary fixed by legislation. As to the other nonsalaried members——
this should appeal to people with the economy axe——
of the Commission we suggest a representative of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and three representatives of the Irish flour millers who would represent the three milling districts of Dublin, Cork and Limerick.
"Every effective flour mill now existing in the Irish Free State, even though silent at present, will be registered and licensed by the Commission, with full particulars of its equipment, power, capacity and ownership."
That is amplified somewhat—I know this will make a very great appeal to the Minister for Industry and Commerce, who makes a regular fetish of effectiveness and efficiency—
"By effective mill we mean a mill capable of economically producing flour by a certain date. Its owner will have to provide the capital necessary for re-starting or re-equipping the mill if such is required; he will have to pay the necessary entrance fee and deposit; he will have to accept a quota and carry out his producing obligation before the first revision of quotas, and he will have to sell his flour at an economic price. In these circumstances, there can be no question whatever of galvanising a moribund mill into life or of subsidising the owner of a really uneconomic mill. On the contrary, any such mill will by this means be given a final quietus."
So much for efficiency. The next paragraph states—
"Except under the licence of the Commission, the capacity of a flour mill may not be increased nor may any new mill be established."
That is a safeguard for those who want to see more efficiency in the mills. It will conserve, at least as far as possible, a fair or equitable arrangement by which each area will get a share of the flour production.
"The Commission will assign a production quota to each mill, and may periodically revise such quotas."
I understand that is done in other countries.
"Infringement of the quota by excess or deficit may be controlled by suitable sanctions and forfeits. We think that the periods for reconsidering and revising quotas will, at the beginning, be short, say monthly. This will provide more secure data; it will also quickly secure the elimination of any mill which is not really effective or economic."
I think that ought to satisfy anybody who worships that fetish, efficiency.
"No legally valid transfer of ownership, or shares or quota-right in a flour mill may be effected without the approval of and registration by the Commission. This approval may not be withheld when the effective control and the majority of the shares are in the hands of Irish citizens, resident in the Irish Free State."
It appears the Minister must have raised some objection some time ago to the terms of that condition, but so far as Irish millers are concerned, I understand they are prepared to substitute something in the following terms—
"No transfer of ownership, shares or quota-right in a flour mill will be legally valid until such transfer is registered by the Commission. In the case of a proposed transfer to non-nationals, or to a corporation whose effective control and the majority of whose shares are not in the hands of Irish resident citizens, it will be the duty of the Commission to make a valuation and to afford Irish nationals a preferential right of purchase."
Dealing with imports and prices, the statement says:
"The Commission will determine and license the importation of flour into the Irish Free State. If the Commission is of opinion that the price of home-milled flour in the Irish Free State is appreciably higher than the economic price of flour of a similar quality in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, it may, after due notice to the home millers, license an increase in the amount of imported flour."
It is proposed to amend that somewhat and to substitute the following:—
"The Commission will prepare and keep a register of flour importers; in doing so it will, as far as possible, recognise the existing importers and will give special facilities to firms or individuals who import flour as raw material for manufacturing products for re-export. No one except a registered importer may import wheat flour and a registered importer may do so only under licence and under specified conditions as to quantity, category of flour, place of entry, and period of time. Importation of flour would be licensed in so far as the supplies of home milled flour are inadequate to the country's needs."
I would like to stress this suggestion to Deputies who may have any lingering doubts in their minds as to what is meant by it.
"Importation of flour would be licensed in so far as the supplies of home milled flour are inadequate to the country's needs. In all matters relating to registration of importers and licences to import the duly attested decision of the Chairman will be exclusive and final."
I think, having regard to the suggested Tribunal or Commission, that that particular suggestion should have a good deal of weight with the Government Party, and indeed with members of every Party in the House.
"The Commission may fix a maximum price for any category or categories of flour in any area or areas. In case any millers in the opinion of the Commission are charging for any category of flour a price exceeding this maximum price, or exceeding the economic price of flour of a similar quality in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, having regard to the national economic gain of having the flour manufactured in the Free State, the Commission may reduce these millers' quotas or may license, generally or locally, an increase in the imports of flour. In the matters dealt with in this article the decision of the Chairman is to be authoritative and final. The Commission may regulate the imports of wheat by designating merchants or brokers in specified ports to act as importers for the millers. Very important powers are assigned to the Chairman in his judicial capacity, to be exercised only after discussion in the Commission, and, if necessary, the hearing of the interested parties. We do this in order to allay any suspicion that the millers themselves are anxious to secure a free hand or to exercise such rights independently of the community. Moreover, the decisions are of such a nature that they could not possibly be fixed by legislative enactment. They can be reached only by executive decision after technical and expert consideration. It would make the scheme quite unworkable if we were to give to a large and ill-defined class of persons the legal right to be registered as importers and to have an assigned percentage quota. One of the objects of the scheme is to encourage the Irish millers to increase their capacity and thus lessen the required imports without, however, interfering in any way with a firm such as that of Messrs, Jacob. It would not be easy, at least at present, to arrive at a legal definition of what in any area is the fair economic price of flour of a given specification, but we think, especially after a short period of working of the plan and when the mills have secured full output and when the weekly returns have accumulated, the Commission could arrive at a fair working decision on this point. If the mills are given the home market and their full output, there is no reason why any miller's price should exceed the corresponding price in Great Britain. And if any miller should attempt to charge more, we desire that the Commission should have power, by price-fixing, quota-restriction or allowance of increased imports to deal with him."
There are other suggestions:
"The Commission may make obligatory on millers the utilisation of home-grown wheat in proportion to the quota of their mills."
I appreciate that that opens up a very wide field and would possibly give rise to very long discussion. It might eventually mean the bringing in of matter which I, personally, do not want to introduce at this juncture. I believe the time will come when we shall have to face up to this whole question of wheat production, but I do not want to bring it in at the moment. We cannot afford, just at the present time, to be in the position of the man and his wife who started to dispute when the house was burning. The first duty of that man or woman was to run for the fire brigade. That is the reason I do not want, at the moment, to stress this question of home-grown wheat.
"If flour milling is carried on in conjunction with other activities, such as maize milling or baking as a single company or firm, the regulations concerning ownership and transfer will apply to the conjoint enterprise, but the flour milling business may be formed into a separate company which will then be registered and licensed apart from other enterprises."
In that connection, it is stated that the cost is not likely to cause any appreciable increase in the price of flour.
"The Commission may make with the millers arrangements for securing an adequate reserve of wheat and flour in the country."
I think that is a suggestion which will meet with the acceptance of every member of Dáil Eireann.
"The Commission will have such powers of investigation, inspection and control as are necessary for the carrying out of its functions. The expenses of the Commission will be borne, partly or wholly, by the millers in proportion to their quota."
In opening my statement, I stressed the seriousness of the position. I indicated, I think, in very clear, lucid and understandable language that, as far as I was and as far as I am concerned, I approached this question with a sincere desire to do something practical and constructive for the industry. I regard the whole situation very seriously. I regard the question as one of urgent national importance. I would ask Ministers and Deputies of all sides to treat this matter as a big national issue and not to drag it down to the level of partisan politics. I deprecate very much any attempt on the part of any Deputy or any party to drag a matter of this kind into the polluted channels of party politics. I think the matter is too serious for that, fraught, as it is, with such consequences for our country. The flour-milling industry, so far as we in Cork are concerned, is not a great industry. From the point of view of the employment it gives, it is not a great industry. In the whole City of Cork, there are not more than a couple of hundred persons engaged in the industry. I want everybody here to understand that there are other districts in which milling is a far more important industry, from the point of view of capital invested and persons employed, than it is in Cork City. I mention that fact for two reasons. I mention it primarily in order to clear the air with regard to insinuations inside and outside this House—that some persons intend to make a party question of this problem and to reap party advantage. Is there anybody so bereft of common sense, not to talk about patríotism at all—let us leave that out of the picture at the moment, because I see very little of it at present——