In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, it would, I think, be convenient not to follow the clauses, as set out, but to follow the various steps which will be taken by the Executive Council, the Minister and the grower in each year. In the first place, the Executive Council will, by Order, fix the standard price. That, in the ordinary year, will be done at the latest by 31st January for the ensuing year. An exception is being made this year. The standard price will be fixed this year if, and when, the Bill becomes law. In the next place, the Executive Council makes an Order fixing the total quantity on which this bounty will be payable. That will normally be done before 1st February but, this year, it will be done as soon as the Bill becomes law. Having made these two Orders, the Executive Council have discharged their functions under this Bill. The next thing that will happen is: the Minister for Agriculture will make an Order defining the area to which the Bill will apply. That Order can be made at any time. It may be made before or after the Executive Council make their Orders. It is not necessary either that the Order should be made each year. It can be varied from time to time. It is my intention, as soon as this Bill passes, to make an Order confining its provisions—for this year at any rate—to the Counties of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan.
These things having been done, the growers make application to be placed on the register of flax-growing premises. If the land is in their own possession and occupied by them, the application may be made at any time. It need not necessarily be made yearly. It can be made at any time and they will remain on the register. If, on the other hand, they are making application in respect of land not occupied by them—in other words, conacre—the application will have to be made between 1st January and the end of March. By Order, the Minister for Agriculture prescribes a date before which growers will make a return to him of the amount of flax they propose to grow. That date will be fixed by Order somewhere about the 15th February. Having got all the applications to grow flax during the year—they will be all in by the end of March—the Minister allocates a quota to each grower. That allocation must be made not later than 31st March. The policy which will be pursued in that regard will be to give, as far as possible, to growers within the flax-growing area, as prescribed, at least as much as they have grown on an average over the last ten years. If the Executive Council fix a certain acreage and if that acreage is not exceeded by all the applicants, then, of course, there will be no necessity to cut down the supply of any applicant. But if the applicants exceed the total amount allotted, then there must be some reduction. The reduction will be on the basis I have mentioned—that is to say, growers who apply for a larger amount than they have been in the habit of growing for nine or ten years will be reduced.
Some time about the month of June growers will make a return to the Department of Agriculture stating the scutch mill to which they propose to send their flax and also stating the amount of flax they have grown. At that stage, the Department may direct certain growers not to send their flax to the scutch mill named, if they are of opinion that too many growers have selected a particular scutch mill. When the flax is delivered to the scutch mill an inspector will call to value it. That is what is called the ascertained value. The inspector values the flax of each individual grower and makes a return to the Department. Having got all the returns, the Department will find out what is the average ascertained value of flax in the Free State, and if the average ascertained value is less than the price fixed by the Executive Council, a bounty amounting to the difference is paid to each grower on the amount of flax he has delivered to the scutch mill that comes within this Bill. Amongst the matters dealt with in Section 20 is "minimum value." That means that no flax will be taken into account in fixing the average ascertained value that is below a certain minimum, so that we cannot have the general average depressed by having an amount of exceedingly bad flax brought into the calculation. Having made the necessary calculation, the Department will pay out to the growers, if there is money due to be paid out. It is proposed, however, to bring in some amendments to this particular section, in the first place to make it unnecessary to pay out if the difference is less than 3d. per stone, and in the second place, to make it unnecessary to pay on the fraction of a stone. These qualifications and amendments were found to be necessary in the case of the wheat bounty after we had worked the Act for some time, and it will be well to have the necessary amendments added to this Bill. I tried to take this Bill in the order in which it would have to be taken by farmers who grow flax, from the time the Executive Council fixes the standard price on the gross amount grown, up to the stage at which growers get the bounty, if a bounty is due. I want to make it clear in case Deputies may not know of it, that there is no interference with flax grown outside the area fixed, and no interference with particular growers in growing more flax than they are permitted to grow under the Bill. If it is found that a grower has been in the habit of growing about three acres of flax for the past ten years, and if we decide that the average yield of flax all over the Free State is 30 st. in allocating the quota of that particular grower it is quite possible he might be allocated 90 st. If he delivers 120 st. of flax he is not doing anything illegal. He is not committing any offence; the only thing is that he is only guaranteed on the 90 st.