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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 Jul 1936

Vol. 63 No. 11

Additional Estimate. - Milk (Regulation of Supply and Price) Bill, 1936—First Stage.

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to make provision for regulating the supply and price of milk, and to provide for the imposition of levies on milk, and to make provision for other matters connected with the matters aforesaid.

I desire, Sir, on a matter of urgency, to oppose the First Reading of this Bill. First and foremost, I oppose it on the general grounds that this is a proposal to give oxygen to a person whose normal health has been interfered with by Government policy. The farmers are to be given stimulatives of a specially designed kind at a time when what is wrong with them is that the normal functioning of their industry has been undermined. What, however, I particularly desire to draw the attention of the House to in opposing this measure is the very grave damage that is being done at the present moment to the poorest section of the community in the city by what has happened recently and in connection with which a situation has arisen which this Bill, in so far as the public statements that have been made on the matter in the public Press can be credited, is intended to perpetuate.

There are three classes of people concerned with the distribution of milk in the City of Dublin, so far as we can ascertain. Firstly, there is the Milk Distributors' Association; secondly, there are the people who, for want of a better name, call themselves the Milk Vendors; and then there is the Cow Keepers' Association of the City and County of Dublin. With two of these we are particularly concerned at the moment; that is, the Milk Distributors' Association and the Milk Vendors. As a result of what has happened recently, the price of the pint in the poorer areas of the city— that is, of loose milk sold over the counter—has been raised from 1½d. to 2d. for no reason in the world. It was stated at a meeting last night that the distribution of milk in the city fell in almost three equal parts to the Distributors' Association, the Vendors, and the Cow Keepers' Association. The figures that were given last night at the meeting are at variance with figures recently given by Professor Drew when dealing with milk consumption in the country as a whole and in the city, but nevertheless, the milk vendors themselves consider that they handle as much milk in distribution as the Distributors' Association handle.

Now, it has been possible for the milk vendors in the City to deal direct with farmers in the Counties of Louth, Meath, Wicklow, Dublin and Kildare. During the winter—say, November, December, January, February and March—they paid the farmers 10d. a gallon for milk delivered in the city. In April and the first few days in May, they paid 9d. and from the 10th of May. 8d. While paying the farmer who produced the milk 8d. a gallon for delivery in the city, they were also able to retail loose milk over the counter at 1½d. a pint, and, in the case of a quart, 2½d. Then the strike arose, and negotiations were conducted between the producers in the neighbouring counties and the Milk Distributors' Association. The Milk Distributors' Association in the past, according to the statements they have made themselves—or at least that the producers have made—were paying the farmers in the neighbouring counties 4d. and 5d. a gallon as against 8d. paid by the milk vendors. I have myself seen a letter sent to a farmer in County Meath stating that from the 4th of May his price would be 6d. a gallon, that his quota would be so many gallons, and that surplus milk would be paid for at the rate of 3d. a gallon. At any rate, the statement has been made that from 4d. to 5d. a gallon was paid to the farmers.

The result of the agreement come to just before last Sunday was that the Milk Distributors' Association agree to give the farmers 8d. a gallon in the city. That is the price already given to the farmers by members of the milk vendors in the city. What was the result, however? When the Distributors' Association, who ought to have the better distributing machinery, paid the farmers the price that was being paid since the 10th of May last by the milk vendors in the city, the price of milk was forced up in the poorest parts of the city, and they squeezed the milk vendors in the city in between some kind of an arrangement between themselves and the producers that forced the retailers in the city to raise the price of milk from 1½d. to 2d. What I want to say is that farmers are getting, under the new arrangement, from the Milk Distributors' Association no more than they got from the milk vendors since the beginning of May last. The vendors were able to sell milk at 1½d. a pint and, from Sunday last, as a result of what has happened in the city, the price in the city has been forced up to 2d.

This matter has been under consideration by the Minister and there have been certain consultations going on for some time, and the Minister should take effective steps to stop the extortionate demand being made in the poorer parts of the city. That ½d. a pint must come off the loose milk being sold in the city to-day. It is an astounding thing that people who have the better machinery for distribution in the city and who were in the past paying even less to the producers than the milk vendors were paying, and who are now paying no more, should have raised the price of milk in the city in this way. The next thing is that the milk vendors complain—and when we consider the position to which they have been forced within the last few days, we can understand their complaint and realise that there may or must be something in their complaint—that in the negotiations going on and in the discussions and plans between the Minister and the Milk Distributors' Association they are being forced out of business. It is notoriously the fact that the arrangement come to between the Milk Distributors' Association and the farmers, in which it was agreed that the Milk Distributors' Association should get milk for 8d., included a clause that people outside that Association would have to pay 1/-. We are now being offered a Bill that, in the minds of the people who represent, at any rate, as important a distributing agency in the City of Dublin as the Milk Distributors' Association, is going to establish a monopoly for the Milk Distributors' Association and is going to force the greater part of the milk vendors out of business. The Minister has the situation entirely in his own hands, I believe, if he wishes to get that 1/2d. taken off, because it is a notorious fact in the City of Dublin that members of the producers in the neighbouring counties, who sat down with the Minister's officials and the Milk Distributors' Association in council and decided solemnly that they would sell milk for 8d. a gallon to the Milk Distributors' Association but would sell to people outside the Association at 1/-, have, in fact, broken themselves personally the agreement that they came to publicly and that was counted on to bind farmers in the neighbouring counties. These men, who sat in council with Departmental officials and with milk distributors and agreed that they would not sell outside their own particular ring at a price less than 1/-, have actually sold in the City of Dublin to people who did not belong to the Milk Distributors' Association at 8d. a gallon. The Minister can force that situation by getting the ½d. taken off and by opposing the idea that the charge to people outside milk distributors is 1/-. What is worse, it will lead to further trouble between people interested in milk other than the Milk Vendors' Association, as was indicated to some extent by what happened at a meeting last night at which a very ugly spirit manifested itself.

Some members of the Milk Vendors' Association are people who are closest to the problem of the poor in relation to their requirements of milk. They are people who have to take money from the poor, and they are being squeezed by the general circumstances of the time, so that inside the Milk Vendors' Association a very ugly spirit is arising. There are some people I admit who, in an excited way at the meeting last night, stated that if milk vendors sold at 1½d. a pint their shops should be wrecked. The ugly scene that took place at the meeting arose out of the fact that there were people there who objected to the fact that milk was being sold in the poorer areas of the city at 1½d. a pint. Bearing on the position of the Milk Distributors' Association, as regards the increase of 1/2d. a pint, and the monopolistic position that the vendors are being given, the extraordinary statement was made at the meeting that the body that kept up the retail price of milk in the past was the Milk Distributors' Association, so that those who kept up the price of milk to the citizens were people who were buying from the farmers at 6d. a gallon for quotas and 3d. a gallon for surplus milk. That discloses an astounding situation. It discloses a difficult and a dangerous situation as far as people who earn their livelihood in the distribution of milk are concerned. The gravest element of the situation is one that is absolutely unnecessary. For no reason that can be shown a situation has been created in the poorer parts of the City of Dublin whereby the price of milk has been increased from 1½d. to 2d. a pint and it is for these urgent reasons I oppose the First Reading of this Bill.

Dr. Ryan

The Opposition appears to be making a practice of opposing Bills before they know what is contained in them. Deputy Dillon, rather unprecedentedly, opposed the First Reading of a Bill recently, without knowing what was in it. Deputy Mulcahy has made a long speech on this Bill which I hope he will be ashamed of when he sees the Bill, if there is any shame in him. Perhaps that is too much to hope. His statement was general and vague, and there was not much in it. Were it not for the fact that there are estimated to be 2,000 vendors and other distributors who have voting power the speech would not be made at all. What great virtue the Deputy can see in vendors more than distributors, or what great crime he can see in being distributors, I cannot say. The voting power is only three to one. The Deputy said that the milk vendors pay 8d. and the distributors, 4d. That ought to show that there was a necessity for legislation without going any further. The Deputy wants to point to the things that are wrong, wants to throw bouquets at the vendors, who are very influential people in the city, and wants to blame the Government for everything. He opposes the Bill before he has seen it.

I want to get the ½d. taken off.

Dr. Ryan

I am surprised to hear that there are farmers who have refused to supply persons to whom they were supplying up to the present at 8d. a gallon. I do not know if the Deputy is right in that. If a member of the Suppliers' Association was in the habit of supplying what is known as a vendor, and wants to continue to supply that vendor, I would be very much surprised to hear if he had refused to supply. The Deputy may object to the suppliers forming an association. I think the farmers have just as much right as any other body to do so.

They should have had the sense to do it long ago.

Dr. Ryan

If they had the sense to do it long ago things might he different. I wonder if Deputy Mulcahy remembers what the price of milk to poor people in Dublin was five or six years ago. Did they get milk cheaper in 1931 than they do now? At that time the Deputy was in a position to take action if he wanted to do so. I do not believe his Party took action. I believe the poor people in the City of Dublin were paying as much for milk from 1923 to 1931 as they are paying under the new arrangement. At that time we did not find the Deputy, when he was on these benches, coming forward and making the speech that he made now on behalf of the poor people. There is no monopoly under this Bill. The Deputy should have waited to see it. I am quite satisfied under this Bill that no group of wholesalers will have a monopoly of milk in Dublin or anywhere else. The Bill is a general one. Any town may adopt it and, as far as the Department is concerned, anyone is free to deal in milk. There may be regulations issued by the Department of Local Government which will prevent certain people going into the milk business but, as far as this Bill is concerned, there is no restriction.

I hope all the other Acts will be properly administered.

Dr. Ryan

The Deputy knows that they are.

The Deputy knows they are not.

Dr. Ryan

I do not want to go into the other provisions of the Bill. I have given an outline of this Bill, showing that it is a general one, and that it can be adopted by any town that wishes to regulate the sale of liquid milk. If it is adopted it will be free for any person to deal in milk wholesale or retail provided the necessary authority is secured under the clean milk legislation that was put through this House by the Minister for Local Government and Public Health.

What does the Minister mean by saying that the Bill can be adopted by any town? Is he referring to the local authorities?

Dr. Ryan

Where the interests concerned wish to have it applied.

I wish to ask——

I do not think there is any right to put further questions.

The Standing Orders provide that only a brief statement can be made at this stage.

The 1/2d. extra is being put on.

The Deputy must not interrupt when a question is being put by the Chair.

Question put and declared carried.
Bill read a First Time.
Second Stage ordered for Tuesday, 21st July.