Private Deputies' Business. - Agricultural Produce (Potatoes) Bill, 1931—Second Stage.

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.

Question proposed—"That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

One would imagine from the speech just delivered by the Minister for Agriculture that we were asked here in this Bill to deal with the whole potato crop grown in this country, but, in fact, we are only asked to deal with an infinitesimal part of that crop. When introducing this measure the Minister explained that the export of seed potatoes had gone up very much from 1922 to 1930. But the amount exported even in the year 1930 is hardly worth speaking about. We have to go back to the year 1926 in order to have any idea of what the volume of potatoes exported is compared with the total volume of potatoes produced in this country. We find that in that year about 1.5 per cent. of the total potato crop was exported. Now we are presented with a Bill here, containing over 20 pages and 37 sections, to deal with that small part of our potato crop. It is, of course, true as the Minister said that the Bill is in line with the other Agricultural Produce Acts that were brought in here before. But whatever might be said for the Dairy Produce Bill, or the Eggs Bill, surely there is not the same necessity for a Bill for this particular export and especially when we come to recognise that our imports of potatoes in this country are greater than our exports. Seeing that we are not as a matter of fact supplying our own needs in potatoes one would imagine it would be more fitting for the Minister to bring in legislation here to see that we supply our own needs, to supply what we want for ourselves in our own towns before we talk about exports of potatoes which are so very small. If we go back over the years since 1922 we will find that in every year except in the year 1927-28 our exports were smaller than our imports. In 1927-28 it looked as if we were going to develop an export trade in potatoes in this country, but in the two following years our production of potatoes evidently went down again and we had to import more than we exported.

The Minister is taking powers in this Bill which he has also taken in some other Bills. I did not have time to look up the other Bills, but I am not sure if the Minister is not going a little further here. Even if he is not I think it is hardly fair that the Department should be the sole judge as to whether people who export potatoes at present are to be allowed to continue to export them and whether the premises where the potatoes are allowed to be collected before being exported are fit and suitable premises for carrying on the trade. I think it is hardly fair that the Minister's Department should be the sole judge as to whether these premises are fit for the grading and packing of potatoes. In the Bill there is no appeal from the Minister's decision. It is definitely stated in the Bill that if the Minister chooses to refuse a licence for premises and if, later on, there is a re-application for the licence for the same premises, he may, without inspection, refuse the licence. Such powers are dictatorial, and I think that the Minister will have on the Committee Stage to give good reasons why he should seek such drastic powers.

The Minister explained what the fees are. They vary from 6d. to 1/6 in most cases, and in special cases to 6/- per ton. In addition, there is a fee paid for licensing in the case of the general exporter. That licence is £25. In the case of the grower-exporter the licence is £5. Taking all these fees together, it is reasonable to assume that there will be an average fee on the exportation of potatoes of about 1/- per ton. That is rather high. The Minister has said that the exporters themselves have asked that such a fee be fixed. That may be. Perhaps the Minister made a good case why some small exporters should be cut out and only the big ones allowed to remain. There is always a great danger when the number of people in any trade or business gets very small that there may be a ring formed, and there is a very great danger that the producer of the article may suffer.

It would be very undesirable to have the number of exporters cut down; it would not be well to have too small a number. Naturally, when they get a price for their produce from Great Britain or whatever country they export to the exporters will pass on the cost of inspection—one shilling per ton —to the producer, so that the producer will be getting one shilling per ton less for his produce. There are regulations for the packing, marketing and transport of potatoes with which we can deal in more detail on the Committee Stage. There are also regulations in regard to seed potatoes. There is one thing which is as important, if not more important, than the export of potatoes, and that is the import of new potatoes. New potatoes are imported here some two months before the new potatoes can be produced at home. It is the practice in Dublin and, I expect, in other cities and towns in the Free State, that from some time towards the end of April to the middle of June it is possible to get imported new potatoes in practically all the hotels. That deprives home-growers of new potatoes from getting a good price, because by the time the home-grown produce can be put on the market the price of imported new potatoes has gone down to such an extent that for the last few years people in the trade have told me —I do not know if it is the experience of other Deputies—that it does not pay any longer to cultivate new potatoes in this country.

We are paying a very big price for imported new potatoes. I am sure it would be justifiable, from the point of view of our own producers, to prohibit the importation of those potatoes. Those people who have a craving for new potatoes should be made wait until June for the home produce, and I believe they will like them just as well as the potatoes they are accustomed to get in April. If the Minister will examine the output of agriculture as recorded by the Statistics Department he will find, in the matter of the disposal of potatoes, that by far a larger quantity was sold to the people in the Free State towns than was exported. Seeing that we imported more than we exported, I think it would be much more desirable that the people in our towns should get their potatoes properly graded and packed. We have a good market here for potatoes, a market sufficient to absorb all our home produce. We should look after that market and see that it is properly supplied.

The export of potatoes has fallen very considerably during the last three or four years. The imports have also fallen. To such an extent have the exports fallen, that in 1930 the total sum realised amounted to only £18,000. One would imagine it is hardly worth while to bring in a Bill of the dimensions of this measure for the sake of £18,000. I was looking up the statistics in regard to potatoes and I came across other things in respect of which we would not dream of legislating, and yet, from the point of view of the amount involved, they are more important. For instance, we exported periwinkles to a much greater extent than we exported potatoes in 1930. The export value of waste paper was much greater than was the export value of potatoes. We got more for woollen rags than we did for potatoes. Nobody would think of bringing in a Bill to deal with the grading and packing of waste paper or to see that the people in Great Britain got true samples. We got more for old hens and for eels, and we got twice as much for rabbit skins as we did for potatoes. These examples will show the relative importance of potatoes for which we are now legislating.

There is a provision that the exporter must send at least 500 tons of potatoes in the year. That means that if our exports do not increase we will not have more than eighteen exporters in the whole Free State. That is based on the volume of export in 1930. The number is very small and represents about one exporter for each maritime county in the Free State. It does not allow for any competition whatsoever. If one man exports 3,000 tons, that will reduce the number of eighteen by at least five, and if other exporters begin to deal in large quantities you may eventually have only five or six exporters. That brings us to the position where the number of exporters will be so small that it will be quite easy for them to form a ring and the growers will be at their mercy. As the amount of potatoes exported is so very small, I do not think that the Bill is of any great importance and, as far as I am concerned, I suggest it should get a Second Reading.

I agree with the principle of this Bill; it is a very good principle, and I think we should encourage such measures as this. On the question of fees, I think the amount set out in the Bill is rather large. I am just wondering if it would be possible to extract, first, a sum of £25, and then this figure of 6d. a ton which is mentioned. It seems a very large sum, and I am sure it will reduce the number of exporters. If we take the tillage counties, it will leave very few, if any, in the other areas of the Free State. With regard to potato merchants, I would like to know from the Minister if those merchants will have to have separate stores if they happen to supply in different places. Sometimes a merchant might supply the cities of the Free State, and sometimes he might export potatoes. Let us say that Deputy White supplies potatoes in Dublin and he also supplies to Derry and to outside places through the port of Derry.

Mr. Hogan

He need not have separate stores.

Am I to take it that only the potatoes exported will be examined, and there will not be any control over the potatoes for home consumption?

Mr. Hogan

None whatever. There is no control of any potatoes except exported potatoes.

There will be no internal inspection at all?

Mr. Hogan

Not at all.

If they are sent from Donegal to Cavan they will not be inspected?

Mr. Hogan

No. You can sell anything you like at home.

There is a loophole there that can be filled in. I have a limited experience of dealing with potatoes, and I think it would be no harm if people selling potatoes to the citizens of the Free State were made to feel that they were delivering the goods.

Mr. Hogan

It would cost too much.

I am sure the Minister and his Department have worked out the thing. It would seem that this £25, plus 6d. or 1/- a ton, would work out at a high cost. I agree with the principle of the Bill.

Mr. Hogan

Deputy Dr. Ryan should vote against the Bill.

Mr. Hogan

Then why waste his time making that speech?

It is not worth while voting against it.

Mr. Hogan

The export trade in potatoes is small, but what could it be? Talk about the home market. The home market is of no importance what-over to us because we have it. I have not much money at the moment in my trousers pocket, but I feel quite safe about it, because I have it there. What I am after is the money I have not.

In which pocket have you got it?

Mr. Hogan

In this one.

Mr. Jordan

You are all right as the Minister for Finance is not in the House.

Mr. Hogan

That is business, but the idea has not got across to the other side of the House yet. The business man is not interested in what he has. He is interested in getting more; therefore, from that point of view the home market is of no importance to us. We have the home market. Deputy Dr. Ryan told us that we have imports of potatoes. We have imports, and that shows how complicated a thing commerce is. We have imports of potatoes to the extent of 20,000, 17,000, 22,000 and 14,000 tons. Put that at 5 tons to the acre. It is rather high; 4,000 acres give 20,000 tons of potatoes. How many thousand acres do we grow at home? I presume Deputy Dr. Ryan knows the figure. It is something between 200,000 and 300,000 acres.

It is much more than that.

Mr. Hogan

Just imagine that we grow 300,000 acres of potatoes in the country, and all we import is the produce of about two or three thousand acres. The mere fluctuations year by year in our acreage would amount to 40,000 or 50,000 tons. The mere fluctuations from one year to another are far more important than the total of our imports, so that for all practical purposes we have the home market, and no one can take it from us.

That position is stationary. The imports of potatoes have not increased. They go up one year and they go down another, but we have the home market. What we want is to extend our export trade, and the purpose of this Bill is to enable us to extend it. There is no possibility of extension in the home market. The most we can get in that way is 20,000 or 30,000 acres. What market have we in England? The import of seed potatoes alone to England amount to 200,000 tons. If we are looking for a new market, there is the place where you have room not for 2,000 or 3,000 acres, but for 140,000 or 150,000 or 200,000 more acres. It is to effect that purpose that this Bill is introduced.

Deputy Dr. Ryan should take his courage in his hands and vote against this Bill and not adopt the mean tactics of criticising it in detail and then letting it go through. I am asked if we want to control the home supply of potatoes. Of course we do not. I am thinking not of the consumer. This Bill is quite frankly in the interests of the producer. That is all it can do. The producer has the home market and let the buyer at home protect himself. That is my attitude for the moment. At the moment I am endeavouring to protect the producer. Moreover, it would be utterly impossible to control the home market. I will sell potatoes to my neighbour, and my neighbour will sell potatoes to me. I will sell potatoes in the town of Loughrea. Every man sells in the nearest town. How many men will be required to control the sale of potatoes in all the towns in Ireland? To my mind, considering the large number, that is impossible, and not only is it impossible even at an enormous cost, but it is unnecesary, because we farmers have the home market in potatoes. This Bill has for its object the development of the potato trade, and the only direction in which we can develop it is in the English market. That is the only place where it is possible for us to find an extra market for our potatoes, and it is with a view to encouraging that that this Bill is introduced.

I am going with the times, because taking one year with another, and taking the exports, we were down last year because of the extraordinarily low prices. There is an increase in our exports of seed and ware potatoes. There is certainly an increase in seed potatoes, so this Bill is going with the tendency that already exists, and I hope that in my small way the control exercised through this Bill will improve the reputation of our potatoes in England and thereby give us a bigger market. Of course Deputies across the House will scoff at an increase of 30,000 or 40,000 tons. It sounds small to them when they hear of the immense amount of tobacco and wheat that they want to grow, but remember this acreage is established in a country and it does not require any subsidy. It is steady, and is not unlikely to incur loss. It will not depend on the whims of a Cumann na nGaedheal, a Republican, a Labour——

Or a Farmers'.

Mr. Hogan

Or a Farmers' Government. It is there. It has maintained its position by its merits, and it is obviously sound business to encourage it in every way. That is the reason I introduced this Bill. I ask the Dáil to pass this Bill, but I do not think Deputy Dr. Ryan should vote for it.

It is not worth it.

Motion put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 24th June.