I move the Second Reading of this Bill. It is a Bill to safeguard and develop the potato trade that has grown to considerable dimensions in this country since the year 1922. Up to that year we were importing seed potatoes. The present position is that our imports of seed potatoes are extremely small. They are only of rare varieties, not produced or raised here, whereas we have developed quite a considerable export trade. The export of seed potatoes has grown from 81 tons in 1924 to 1,419 tons in 1930, while in the same period the import of seed potatoes has shrunk from 1,830 tons in 1924 to about 580 tons in 1930. This Bill deals not only with seed potatoes, but with ware potatoes. The seed potato trade, in the nature of things, never reached anything like huge dimensions, but at the same time it is very valuable. It is essentially a trade for small holdings, on which family labour is used and absorbed to a great extent. There is no doubt whatever that we should do everything in our power to develop the production of seed potatoes in this country.
This Bill, however, deals not only with seed potatoes, but with ware potatoes. The purpose of the Bill is to control the grading and packing and, generally, the export of both ware and seed potatoes. The Bill is divided into six parts. Part 2 provides that every premises in the country, from which either seed or ware potatoes are exported, shall be registered, and that every exporter shall be licensed. It also provides the fees to be paid by exporters. There are really three sorts of licences, including two main classes. There is the exporter's general licence and the exporter's (grower's) licence. An exporter's general licence, as the name implies, applies to any exporter who for trade purposes exports potatoes, whereas the other licence is confined to growers.
So far as the growers are concerned, licences will only be given on certain conditions, which are set out in Section 6. Sub-section (3) of the section provides that:
The Minister may grant a licence (in this Act referred to as an exporter's (grower's) licence) to export potatoes from particular registered premises to any person who—
(a) is the registered proprietor of such premises, and
(b) is a grower of potatoes, and
(c) was at any time before the commencement of this Act an exporter of potatoes grown by himself, and
(d) applies in the prescribed form and manner....
and so on. There are certain conditions attached to the exporter's (grower's) licence. The most important of them are found in paragraph (c) (ii), sub-section (5) of Section 6:—
(ii) That the holder thereof of the grower's licence shall not export thereunder in any one calendar year more than one hundred tons of potatoes.
I may say there are very few growers who export their own potatoes. As there were a few, however, we thought it well to provide for them. This Bill has been drafted in consultation with the principal growers; in fact, I think with practically all the growers who export. The provisions set out have received the approval of these growers. The important provision is that the growers shall not export in any one calendar year more than one hundred tons of potatoes. The point of that provision is to make sure that there shall be nothing in the way of fraud. If a grower holding an exporter's (grower's) licence, which costs far less than the other, could export potatoes in unlimited quantities, it would be very difficult to control him. It would be very difficult to make certain that he was exporting not only his own potatoes but the potatoes of other people. The maximum provided here makes it quite certain that he is not doing an illegitimate trade of that sort. It is no hardship on him because, as far as we know, no grower is likely to export anything like a hundred tons of potatoes per annum.
I said there were three sorts of licences. There is also a special licence provided to be used on special occasions in case any person wishes to export for any peculiar reason or for any reason peculiar to a particular consignment of one special lot of potatoes. Sections 7, 8 and 9 deal with fees. There is no fee on the registration of premises. All premises are registered free. The fees are paid on the issue of a licence to export to a grower for a grower's licence and to a general exporter for a general exporter's licence. The fees for the general exporter's licence are set out in Section 7. Sub-section (1) of the section provides that on every application for an exporter's general licence there shall be paid to the Minister by the applicant a fee of £2 10s. 0d., returnable to the applicant if his application be refused. Sub-section (3) of the same section provides that in the event of the application being granted, that is to say, of the licence being issued, there shall be a further additional fee of £22 10s. 0d. paid. Therefore, the initial fee for a general exporter's licence is £2 10s. and £22 10s., making a total of £25. The application for the grower's licence is made in much the same way. The fee amounts to £5. At first 10/- is paid down. That is returnable if the application is not granted, while the balance, £4 10s., is paid if the application is granted. The total is £5.
These are the initial fees. They have been discussed with the trade. Speaking generally, the trade is in agreement with those fees. Curiously enough, most of the representations made to the Department while we were drafting the Bill have been on the lines of increasing the fees. That is under- standable enough when one comes to consider it. There are certain merchants doing an export trade in potatoes in this country. Some of them do things well. They are reliable and export their potatoes in a way that is a credit to themselves and the country. On the other hand, there are other merchants who are not quite up to that standard. The general point of view, with which I personally agree and with which the Department agree, is that you could suffer perhaps more from too many exporters than from too few. We have deliberately, with the agreement of the trade, imposed a general fee in this Bill which will make it a somewhat serious consideration for a man to enter into the trade. It is certainly big enough to ensure that a person who goes into the trade is fairly substantial, that he is in a position to provide suitable premises and the amount of equipment and plant necessary for the grading, packing and export of potatoes.
I do not know whether there will be objection made to that on the lines that this is tending towards monopoly. Of course, it is not. We will have quite sufficient exporters in this country even under this regulation, and the competition between them will be ample. A surplus of very small exporters does not bring about extra competition. It merely increases the overhead expenses which the farmer has to pay, and, in fact, a very big surplus might result in the long run in lessening the amount which goes back to the farmer. Ten good strong exporters will bring about far more efficient competition than a hundred small and inefficient exporters. In addition to these fees there are annual fees provided in Section 9 which again deals with the case of the general exporters. It provides in paragraph (b) that the rate for ware potatoes shall be 6d.. and in the case of seed potatoes such fee "as may be prescribed," not being more than 1/- per ton. I may say that for any potatoes, except seed potatoes, these are the only fees that have to be paid for the export of potatoes from the premises of the registered proprietor
Paragraph (c) deals with the case "where potatoes in such consignment are graded and packed in registered premises of which such exporter is not the registered proprietor, the rate shall be—
(i) if such potatoes (whether ware potatoes or seed potatoes) are submitted for examination at a railway station or a wharf, such rate (not exceeding one shilling for every ton) as may be prescribed.
(ii) if such potatoes (whether ware potatoes or seed potatoes) are submitted for examination at any other place, such rate (not exceeding one shilling and sixpence for every ton) as may be prescribed."
Deputies will note that there are a number of contingencies provided for. There is the case where the potatoes are graded, packed and inspected on the premises of the registered proprietor. In the case of an exporter of ware potatoes the rate is 6d., and in the case of seed potatoes not more than one shilling. In a case where they are graded and packed on other premises, such as a wharf or railway station, the fee is not more than 1/- for both, but in a case where they are graded, packed, or exported on premises not being a railway station or wharf, the fee shall not be more than 1/6. In Donegal especially there is a system amongst exporters of making arrangements that the grower shall not consign them to the exporter's premises but shall send them to the railway station. It is in order to facilitate the trade that we make provision so that the potatoes shall be graded, packed and examined at the railway station or on the premises of the grower, even though he is not a registered grower. Where we have to examine at the premises of the grower, or at a railway station, we have to charge more, because the expense of examination will be more. If that system spread largely through the country it would mean that a very large number of inspectors would need to be employed in order to examine and check the potatoes, and also to deal with a larger number of premises. If we could have all the potatoes graded, packed and exported from the premises of registered exporters these premises would not be so many, a small number of inspectors would do, and the expenses generally would be light.
That would be a hardship on the growers, and we are providing that the grading, packing and inspection may take place, not only on the premises of the exporter but, if necessary, at the railway station or on the premises of a grower who may not have an exporter's licence. When we do that we have to make the fee somewhat bigger.
Part 3 deals with regulations as to the grading and packing of potatoes, the marking of packages and the conveyance of potatoes. The provisions in Sections 18 and 19 speak for themselves and are the same as those in the Dairy Produce Act and the Agricultural Produce (Eggs) Act. They make regulations as to the method of grading potatoes, the conditions of the potatoes, packing, etc.; that certain marks must be placed on the packages to indicate whether they are seed or ware potatoes, to indicate that they are a special variety, or that they come from black soil or alternatively red soil. It provides penalties for placing unauthorised marks on the packages. Part 4 deals with the examination of consignments of potatoes. Section 22 (1) provides that:—
Any person who desires to sell as seed potatoes the whole or any part of a crop of potatoes grown by him may request the Minister to have such crop inspected while growing, and on such request being made the Minister may, if he thinks fit, cause such crop to be inspected by an inspector.
I pointed out that our trade in seed potatoes is developing, and it is to control that trade that this part of the Bill is inserted. This section deals with the first steps a grower of seed potatoes must take. A grower of seed potatoes may apply to the Department to have the crop examined while it is growing. It is inspected by an inspector and, if he passes it as pure, he issues a certificate to that effect. Anyone who holds that certificate may have his potatoes inspected later by an inspector of the Department, who will examine each consignment and issue a certificate again to the grower, who will have the advantage then of selling potatoes in England certified as pure without rogues or foreign matter. On the other hand, the fact that they have been examined by the inspector, not only when growing but afterwards in packages and actually sealed, will make it fairly certain that the consignee in England is getting exactly the goods described in the package. Section 26 deals with the period of exemption:—
The Minister may from time to time by order declare that the period between the 1st day of June and the 31st day of August, both days inclusive, or such part of the said period as may be specified in such order, shall in such year or years as may be specified in such order be a time of exemption for the purposes of this Part of this Act, and whenever such an order is made and in force the period declared by such order to be a time of exemption for the purposes of this Part of this Act shall in every year specified in such order be a time of exemption for the purposes of this Part of this Act.
That enables us to specify three months as the time of exemption. The point of that is that within that time of every year—other than new potatoes or odd lots of old potatoes, which are practically negligible—we do not want to have the trouble of controlling the export of small lots of new potatoes or small lots of old potatoes, sold as such, and hence we make that period or any smaller period the period of exemption during which the Act does not apply.
Section 27 deals with the export of potatoes and what is being done already, and provides certain exceptions in sub-section (6) which are rather important. This section shall not apply to any potatoes which are exported in one lot or consignment and do not exceed in weight five hundredweights. That is to say, anybody may export 5 cwt. anywhere he likes without conforming to any of these regulations. That is to facilitate people who occasionally export small quantities. Sub-section (6) (c) (i) of Section 27 deals with potatoes exported into Northern Ireland, and provides that the Bill shall not apply to potatoes which are exported in one lot or consignment to Northern Ireland by the grower thereof in his own vehicle, and which do not, with the packages (if any) containing the same, exceed in weight one ton. That is so as not to interfere with the ordinary carrying of potatoes backward and forward over the Border. That provision is essential. Otherwise farmers could not take potatoes from one market town to another. Section 28 provides for special licences to export potatoes.
These are, for the purposes of Second Reading, the main sections in the Bill. I have only to add that this particular Bill is on the same lines as the Dairy Produce Act or the Agricultural Produce (Eggs) Act, and it is to ensure that the growing trade which has been developed to a great extent by the efforts of the Department of Agriculture during the last five years shall not only be maintained but extended. Unfortunately, there are many cases where exporters and growers have not been as careful or as scrupulous as they might be. I will not say that we have numerous cases, but we have too many cases where exporters export seed potatoes describing them as of one variety whereas they are not of that variety. We have other cases where potatoes are exported and wrong weights are indicated. Potatoes are exported in other cases with considerable quantities of clay attached to them. Sharp practice of that sort take place. That has always been a source of trouble in this country. It is regarded as smart and clever. In the past it did considerable harm, not only to the potato industry, but also to other agricultural produce. The aim of this Bill is to bring potatoes in line with the butter and egg exports and to ensure that the reputation for growing first class seed and ware potatoes which have been won by the general run of farmers in the country shall not be filched from them by the mistake or by the deliberate wrong-doing of a certain number.
This Bill will not cost a very big sum—not more than £3,000 or £4,000. Considerable sums will come in in fees, and it will not cost the country very much. I have no doubt it will give good value. The potato trade is an important trade. It exists in the country and it does not need a subsidy. It is resting on its merits; it has always been here. Potatoes vary in price from year to year. In a good year you have big world supplies, and as a consequence small prices. Two years ago you had good supplies and small prices, whereas immediately afterwards you had average crops and good prices. These things are inevitable.
I do not profess in this Bill to get better prices than the best prices in the market, but it is in order to enable us to get the best prices in the market that this Bill is introduced. The potato produced in this country is a crop which gives considerable labour, a crop that is very suitable to the small farmers and gives labour to the farmers' families. It is being maintained and developed in the country without any subsidy or any of the artificial aids which are required for other crops that are more exotic.