Flax Bill, 1935—Report.

I move amendment No. 1:—

In page 8, Section 16 (1) (c), line 22, before the word "graded" to insert the word "and" and in the same line to delete the words "and valued."

I think that amendments Nos. 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 might be discussed together, as they all deal with the same point.

Notice taken that 20 Deputies were not present; House counted, and 20 Deputies being present.

As I was saying, these five amendments might, I think, be discussed together. The object is to save the inspectors sent out by the Department from having to grade and value the flax. In my opinion, it would be very difficult for an inspector to put a value on flax at the scutch mill because the value of flax fluctuates from week to week and from month to month during the season. The inspector may not always be in touch with the fluctuations that take place on the markets. After all, there is only one man who has an interest in, and who knows the value of flax and the different grades of flax, and that is the buyer—the spinners' representative. We have a number of spinning firms in Ireland each requiring a different grade of flax. A grade of flax worth 10/- per stone to one spinning firm would not be bought at all by another spinning firm. That, in itself, shows how difficult it would be for the Department's inspector to value flax. The market ticket will always be available for the inspector when he wants to see it in the areas where flax markets are held. In areas where markets are not held the ticket is sent on by the spinning firm to the scutch mill-owner. There is a return forwarded in due course to him as to the grade and value of the flax. The inspector can always have access to that ticket in the mill-owner's books.

What I am proposing would, I submit, save the inspector from the odium of putting perhaps a false value on the flax. I also think it is unfair to ask any man who is not the representative of a spinning firm to put a value on flax. The inspector may be a very competent man, but as I have already pointed out, owing to the difference in the grades of flax and the value that one spinner will put on them as compared to another, it would be a very difficult thing indeed for the inspector to know what value to put on flax. If he were to put a value of 1/- or 2/- a stone, either under or above the market value, that would be most misleading to the Department when fixing the average price on which to pay a bounty, if a bounty were payable. I think that the acceptance of my amendments would save that trouble and worry both to the Minister's Department and the inspectors concerned. The market ticket which is sent by the spinning firm to the mill-owner will be available for the inspector at all times, and I think that should be sufficient. It will save the Department and the inspector and probably prevent putting the growers of flax in a false position. If an inspector fixes the price of flax at a flax mill at 1/- per stone under its value, it may leak out to the buyer of that flax, and he is not going to pay beyond that price for it, with the result that the flax grower will be losing and it will be unfair to him. It would be better for him to get the real value for it rather than this fictitious price that the buyer would pay if he found out what the flax inspector had valued it at. I think there is a reasonable case for the consideration of the amendments and I hope the Minister will accept them and thus save the inspector and the Department from any odium which might accrue through putting a price on the flax.

Dr. Ryan

The series of amendments suggested by Deputy O'Donovan got very full consideration in my Department and I think the case against accepting them is very strong. Even assuming that the value ascertained from the sale were available and reliable in the first place it would lead to great delay, as is shown by our experience of the wheat scheme. When the wheat scheme first came in we had to get returns from the millers as to what they paid for the wheat all over in order to find out the average price paid. We were held up for a long time because the millers did not make returns, and then perhaps some little error was detected in the returns and they had to be sent back. The result was that we had farmers complaining all over the country and their representatives here also complaining at the great delay in paying the honus on the wheat. The same thing in another way applies to tobacco. The returns are very long about coming in and the bonus, for instance, on last year's crop is not paid even yet, so that, although the farmers are growing the tobacco for the second time, they have not yet been paid for the last crop on account of the long delay in getting returns from the rehandlers and manufacturers which are necessary before the bonus is paid.

In this case we can imagine even a worse position arising than in the case of wheat, because we would have to wait until all the flax is sold. If any farmer for any reason held up the sale of flax we would have to wait until he effected a sale to get the return from the spinner or whoever might buy it. In that way the subsidy would not be paid perhaps for months and months after a number of farmers had disposed of their crop. From experience we find that farmers were much better pleased to get all that was coming to them for the wheat when selling it. They did not like getting part of the value when the wheat was sold to the miller and waiting for the bonus for some time. The same thing would apply to flax. They cannot get the subsidy at the same time of course, but we want at least to see that they get the subsidy as quickly as possible. That is my principal objection, in fact my whole objection, to the scheme suggested by Deputy O'Donovan.

Under the scheme as laid down in the Bill we send an inspector to see the flax weighed, and at the same time he notes down what he thinks is the value of it, but not for publication. He notes it down in his notebook, which is returned to the Department, and the miller is not made any the wiser of what the inspector thinks is the value of it—at least, he need not be. When we have got the values from our own inspectors, we can strike an average value. In fact, under the Bill, I do not think we are bound to wait until all the flax is valued—we only want to get the average value. If there is any miller, or any farmer, holding up things, we need not wait for him, but can go ahead and ascertain what the average value is, and begin paying the subsidy when due. Deputy O'Donovan also knows that there are not markets here. In the North of Ireland, where they have a flax scheme, they have, I think, compulsory marketing. If we had some scheme like that here, of course, we would be in a better position to adopt Deputy O'Donovan's suggestion if we thought wise to adopt it. But, as we have not markets here, I think it would be impossible to consider it at all.

Deputy O'Donovan also made the case that the inspector would be no judge of the flax; that even buyers have their own values; that one buyer wants a certain grade of flax and pays a certain price for it, and another buyer may not want that particular grade, but another grade for which he will pay a different price. It appears to me that an intelligent inspector would, for that very reason, be in a better position to assess the price, because he would have an idea, perhaps, that a certain grade of flax would be taken by a certain individual at a certain price, and that another grade in the same mill would be taken by a different buyer at a different price.

On the whole, I think that we should give the Bill as it stands a trial. The experience is that when legislation is brought in with regard to a matter like this, or cereals, or dairy produce, invariably after a year's or two years' experience it is necessary to have further legislation to deal with matters that were not foreseen, perhaps, or with further developments. If there is a big increase in the growing of flax, we may possibly have to deal with that by an amending Bill. Therefore, I think that for a commencement we should give this present scheme a chance, and if flax-growing increases to any great extent, and if we have a good case for bringing in a marketing scheme, and seeing that public markets are instituted, as they have been in Northern Ireland, then it might be possible to consider the principle of the amendments. As things stand, however, we could not accept it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.

I move amendment No. 3:—

In page 8, Section 16 (2) (a), line 30, to insert after the word "premises" the words "or his representative".

Dr. Ryan

This is the common form in all legislation. It does not mean that the proprietor must be there in person: his representative is sufficient.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 8, Section 16 (2) (a), line 31, to insert after the word "inspector" the words "who shall visit such scutch milling premises at weekly intervals during the scutching season."

This deals with the inspector's visit to the scutch mill for the purpose of grading and valuing the flax. The object is to help mill owners by having weekly visits from the inspector, thus making it unnecessary for them to put up extra storage and incur more expense in their business. It would also save them from heavy insurance, because if they have to hold any quantity of scutched flax for any length of time, awaiting the visit of an inspector, very heavy insurance would have to be paid, and all that would have to come out of the price of the flax. In order to benefit the mill owner and the growers of flax, I suggest that the amendment should be accepted. It would be a hardship to compel millers to put up extra storage accommodation for ten, 12 or 15 tons of scutched flax, and hold it for any length of time until the inspector visited the mill. If this amendment is accepted, the inspector will visit the mills every week. That would meet the situation and would save the miller and grower from additional expense. The Minister sees the necessity for having visits to the mill arranged for as expeditiously as possible, so that there would be no big bulk of flax retained at the mills for any length of time.

Dr. Ryan

I think the Deputy would scarcely wish to push this amendment and to have a hard and fast rule that an inspector should visit every mill once a week. There are small mills which may not be working all the season, and it would be unnecessary and ridiculous to expect an inspector to call around every week. In addition, there will be very little done at the beginning of the season, and at the end of the season when the work is tailing off, and it may not be necessary for an inspector to make visits every week. I think, however, I can assure the Deputy that where a mill is working full time—a large mill, at any rate —the inspector will visit frequently. He will, perhaps, visit more frequently than once a week, but he will certainly visit once a week where a mill is working full time and where a visit once a week would be warranted.

That would meet requirements.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 5 to 9, inclusive, not moved.
Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

I should like to know how soon the Bill will operate. The time is ripe for the appointment of inspectors to visit the mills and the farms on which flax is grown. How many inspectors does the Minister think he will require to do the work? I suppose he now has knowledge of the acreage under flax and probably the number of scutch mills in the Free State. It will be necessary to appoint competent inspectors immediately, because I see flax down in West Cork which will be pulled by mid-July, and the farms on which it is grown will want to be visited by the inspectors.

Dr. Ryan

I expect that there will be either three or four inspectors required. We have those inspectors already in the Department, and there will not be any difficulty about getting them to work almost immediately, if required. We will see after the necessary advertisements with all possible speed so as to give growers an opportunity of applying for registration and doing all that is necessary to come under the scheme this year. I think we will not have any difficulty about having the Bill operate in respect of the present crop.

I doubt if three or four inspectors will be able to handle it. I do not know what the acreage is, but, if there is a big acreage, three or four inspectors travelling from Donegal to West Cork and Mayo would have their hands pretty full.

Dr. Ryan

I am advised that they will be enough, but experience may teach us that that is not so.

Question put and agreed to.