I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. As the long title shows, this is a Bill "to make further and better provision in relation to the purchase and sale (including export) of eggs by way of trade, whether wholesale or retail, and for the registration and control of persons engaged by way of trade in purchasing, selling, exporting, preserving, or otherwise dealing in eggs." This Bill continues the provisions of the 1924 and 1930 Acts and extends those provisions in many respects. The Bill is set out in five parts, and it is intended that all five parts shall be brought into operation at the same time. When this Bill comes into operation, the provisions of the 1924 and 1930 Acts will be repealed.
Before dealing with the contents of this Bill, I think it would be well to give a review of the working of the 1924 and 1930 Acts. The 1924 Act, which is the first of this code, dealt entirely with exports. It dealt with the export of eggs and in particular with the persons engaged in the export trade. Under that Act, these exporters were registered. They were required to have suitable premises and were bound to test, grade and pack eggs in conformity with the regulations. It was provided that there would be inspection of these premises and also inspection of eggs at the point of export, whether they were being exported by sea or over the land frontier. It was provided, also under the 1924 Act, that if a consignment were found to be defective under the regulations, a package or packages could be forfeited. It was further provided that an exporter with a bad record for forfeitures would eventually lose his licence. In practice many exporters who lost their licences had them restored after some time. During the time that these exporters were off the register, having had their licences cancelled, they could not export eggs, but they could sell on the home market. That is one of the troubles that have arisen from the 1924-30 legislation of which we must take account. The producers were altogether out of the Act of 1924, and so were the dealers, but both producer and dealer could be prosecuted for selling bad or dirty eggs In addition, dealers might have a package forfeited if it were examined on the premises and if eggs below the standard which had been laid down were found in it.
The theory of the 1924 Act was that if pressure could be exerted on the exporters so that they would not be permitted to export eggs unless they were of good quality, they in turn would not take eggs from procedures unless the eggs were up to the standard that they required, that that pressure would go back to the producer, and that the producer eventually would have to market his eggs in good condition, otherwise they would not be taken from him. It was thought at that time that by dealing in this way with the exporters the desired result would be achieved the whole way back to the producer. Naturally it was expected also that if the quality of eggs for export were greatly improved the quality of eggs for consumption on the home market would also be improved and that we would get an all-round improvement in the egg trade in this country. These hopes, however, did not materialise. There is no doubt that there were many exporters who were quite willing and anxious to co-operate with the Department in improving the quality of the eggs, and when the Act was first passed many exporters refused to take eggs unless they were fresh and of good quality. These exporters found, however, after some time that if they did not take them other exporters would take them. The exporters who were willing to take all eggs offered to them, whatever kind they might be, were favoured by the collectors of eggs throughout the country and those exporters who set out to co-operate with the Department to improve our eggs found that their trade was going from them and eventually they also had to take all eggs as they were offered to them.
The collectors had the same story to tell. The collector who went round the country to collect eggs from producers may have made an attempt in the beginning to refuse such eggs as were not up to required standard, but he found from experience that other collectors were willing to take them. He found that he was losing his connections and his trade, and eventually he had to do as others did and take all eggs as they came to him, with the result that the improvement which was expected from the passing of the 1924 Act was of short duration. After a very short time the number of forfeitures began to increase and there was no marked improvement in the quality of the eggs presented at the ports. As I have said already, where an exporter had a bad record, and where a number of forfeitures were made, the Minister for Agriculture at the time, whether my predecessor or myself, removed the name of the exporter from the register, but he could still continue in trade. He could continue to collect eggs from his customers and put those eggs on the home market. There was no regulation with regard to the sale of eggs on the home market and the result was that worse eggs were being put on the home market than those which were being exported. I am afraid that, in consequence, a number of consumers in this country, both in the City of Dublin and in other towns, were turned against eggs for a long time to come. It will take a long time before a person who is given a bad egg to eat can face another one.
In 1930 another Act was passed. It was considered at that time very carefully by the Minister and by officials of the Department whether they should not extend the provisions of the legislation so as to control the producer and the collector. After long consideration, they came to the conclusion that by tightening up the provisions that were already in the 1924 Act, by filling some of the gaps that were left in that Act, and by giving inspectors more powers under that Act, there might be still some hope of improving the quality of our eggs, by concentrating on the exports and by leaving the producer and the collector as they were. They did not like at that time to go ahead with the full provisions outlined here and they gave the regulation of exports a further trial. There was one important amendment made by the 1930 Act and that was that no person would be permitted to test and grade eggs unless he was a qualified person, but even so, I think it will be admitted now that the 1930 Act did not improve matters very much more than they had been improved by the 1924 Act. At that time too, and since then, every opportunity was taken to stress the view that if wholesalers were to take concerted action and refuse to take all eggs below export standard, the quality and price of eggs on the home market and the export market would be greatly improved. As I have said already, many of the wholesalers agreed with this, but so long as there were any exporters who were prepared to take a risk and try to get by the inspectors with stale eggs, nothing could be done to improve matters. At any rate, the improvement which we hoped to achieve from the legislation passed in 1924 and 1930 fell very far short of being realised.
The old position remained after the 1930 Act was passed, and that is that the collectors found that, if they wanted to remain in business, they had to take all eggs presented to them. The wholesalers found the same. Numerous prosecutions were instituted against dealers throughout the country, after the 1930 Act was passed, for buying or selling or for having in their possession dirty eggs or eggs not fit for human consumption. It was found that the penalties inflicted were not nearly drastic enough to prevent the abuses that were being carried on. There was a tendency, as a matter of fact, to regard the sale or purchase of dirty eggs as a minor offence, whereas the truth, as I think everybody will admit who goes into this trade deeply, is as regards a very large proportion of the stale eggs which reach the consumer, that the cause of that is the marketing, in the first instance, of dirty eggs by the producer. Perhaps we may say that producers have not fully realised their own position and responsibility in this matter: that they have continued to carry on presenting dirty eggs for sale in spite of all the propaganda and all the appeals and so on that have been made to them in their own interests.
Now another, and perhaps one of the biggest troubles that we have in the egg trade, one which we have failed to solve so far by legislation, is the stale egg—the egg that becomes stale because it is held too long from the time it is laid until it reaches the consumer. The previous Acts did not directly penalise the person who had stale eggs except in so far as it was necessary to mark them second quality when they were consigned for export; but in spite of that provision it was found that a large quantity of stale eggs continued to reach the export market—eggs which were not marked stale according to the regulation. Then, of course, the home market, to which this provision did not apply, received quite a lot of stale eggs which were not marked at all, or which perhaps were exposed for sale as fresh eggs or newly-laid eggs.
The big trouble appears to be, especially in times of rising prices, that everybody along the line from the producer to the retailer holds the eggs too long. The producer of the eggs finds that the price is going up perhaps slightly week by week, and he does not see any great inducement to hurry his eggs out to the market. He keeps them too long, and when they are taken by the collector they are already—well, somewhat overdue. The collector, again, finds that there is a rising market, and there is nothing to induce him to send on the eggs to the wholesaler or the exporter, as he is described now, and he holds them too long. The exporter holds them longer than he should, and eventually they are either exported or sold to a retailer to be put on the home market, but the position is that they have been held too long.
That is one of the matters that we want to remedy, if we can, under this present legislation. The stale egg, I think, may be described as the central problem of our egg trade, and it must be dealt with as provided for in the Bill if we are to put the trade on a secure foundation. There is even more necessity for that now than ever before because in our export trade we are, year after year, up against keener competition. Every year it is more difficult to hold our position, such as it is, on the export market. Under these circumstances, I think the Dáil will agree that a drastic extension of the partial measures of State control embodied in the existing Acts is not only desirable but essential if we are to retain, not to speak of advancing, our position on the export market, and, what is perhaps more important in present circumstances, to increase the demand for eggs on the home market.
This Bill, therefore, contains provisions providing for the acceleration of the movement of eggs from the time they are laid until they reach the consumer both on the part of the producer through the collector and through the wholesaler and on to the retailer, whether that retailer is living at home or somewhere else, and is receiving our eggs as exported eggs. Under this new legislation, therefore, we are making new provisions. One of them is that dealers—so far they have not been controlled—who now acquire eggs for transmission to wholesalers must be registered. They will be required to have suitable premises, and power is being taken to make regulations compelling them to dispose of their eggs within a specified period after acquisition. They cannot in future, according to the Bill before the House now, hold these eggs longer than the prescribed time. They must pack the eggs at the time of acquisition in packages of standard design, bearing a prescribed number, and put with each lot of eggs a docket bearing the name and address of the producer, so that when the eggs are afterwards examined, tested and so on it will be possible to find out who is the owner of the stale or bad eggs as the case may be. A registered dealer can acquire eggs only from a producer unless he has a special licence to get eggs from another dealer. He can dispose of his eggs only through a registered wholesaler unless he has a special licence to sell by retail. He must keep records of all his acquisitions and of all his disposals, and these records must be entered within a prescribed time. He will not be allowed to carry on business unless on registered premises. He can be prosecuted for buying dirty eggs from producers, or for having dirty or bad eggs in his possession after the prescribed time for the disposal of those eggs, or for selling dirty eggs which had been obtained from producers.
He may be provisionally registered on application. We do not want to come down suddenly on those people who have been in the egg trade for a long time—dealers and collectors. We do not want to come down on them suddenly and tell them that their premises are not fit to carry on business in, and put them out of business. We are prepared to register them provisionally, to give them some little time to get their premises in order, but we must insist that they will get their premises in order as quickly as possible. A dealer's registration may be cancelled for contravention of any of the provisions of the Act or of any of the regulations. He will have to pay registration fee of £1, and also an annual fee of £1. Those who are now registered as exporters will automatically become registered as wholesalers. They will no longer be called exporters but will be known as wholesalers. Pending the examination of premises they must, of course, get them into order before they get definite registration afterwards. Registration will be either confirmed or withheld when the premises are examined.
As Deputies know, there is a fee collected from wholesalers at the moment, according to the amount of eggs dealt with for export, and that will continue. There will be a fee collected from wholesalers, according to the amount of eggs which pass through their hands. It will not be necessary, however, to pay fees on the same consignment of eggs twice. If one wholesaler buys from another it is not intended to collect the fee from more than one wholesaler for that transaction. If a wholesaler acquires eggs directly from producers he will be subject to the same regulations that I have already mentioned as the collector or dealer. He must pack the eggs in standard boxes with a docket of identification showing what producer they came from. He must test, grade and pack the eggs and mark them according to the regulations, but we may make different regulations for the export and for the home trade. We may also make regulations compelling the wholesaler to stamp each individual egg with a code mark, indicating the time the egg was packed on his premises. To those who are not closely identified with the egg trade that may seem a bit drastic, but the necessity for it is this: Deputies who may not be acquainted with the tricks of the trade may say that the date on the boxes, as is already the case, ought to be sufficient. It is not because—believe it or not—there are wholesalers on the export markets who are quite capable of taking the board with the date off the box and putting a new board with another date on. The only way to deal with the matter is to code date each egg, because they will not go to the trouble of taking a mark off an egg and putting another in its place.
The wholesaler must have his eggs tested, graded and packed before they are consigned from his premises and, just like a dealer, he is forbidden to carry on trade except on registered premises. He must test the eggs within the prescribed time and dispose of them within a prescribed period. These regulations run through the various people dealing with eggs, because the big object of the Bill is to see that the eggs travel as fast as possible from one party to another. Registration can be cancelled for contravention of the Act, for breach of contract in the purchase or sale of eggs, or for altering the marks on packages of eggs either exported or used at home, or for acting in any way that is calculated to injure the reputation of Irish eggs. It will be an offence for a wholesaler to sell dirty eggs or eggs unfit for human consumption, or to purchase dirty eggs and have them on his premises after a prescribed time unless they are put aside and so marked. The Bill provides that eggs that do not reach the prescribed standard must be marked to show that they are second-quality eggs. It will be an offence for a wholesaler or a retailer to offer, consign, or sell any second-quality eggs not so marked, and for the purposes of the Bill all eggs that do not reach the standard of second-quality eggs will be deemed unfit for human consumption.
The powers conferred on the inspectors are somewhat similar to the powers they have under existing legislation. There is one other power added, and that is that eggs intended for export shall be presented for examination at a particular place and time. The inspector may alter that if he finds it necessary that they should be presented for examination at a particular place and time. Deputies may think that that is interfering with legitimate trade in a drastic manner, but the reason is this: Under the old legislation it was not an uncommon practice for exporters to present a large amount of eggs for examination half an hour before a boat was due to sail. Naturally, of course, they urged the inspectors to hurry up the examination so that they would not miss the boat, and the owners of the boat also urged the inspectors to hurry, with the result that the inspectors could not do the business properly. There is a suspicion that these eggs could have been presented for examination three or four hours before the boat was due to sail, just as well as half an hour before it sailed, and so the necessity arises of making a regulation of this kind, that eggs must be presented for examination at a given time and at a given place, as the case may be, so that there will be reasonable time for examination. The conditions with regard to preservers are similar to those in the existing Acts. There is also power in the Bill to require retailers to register. That is put in for a reason. As I state, wholesalers in future will have to pay certain fees both on eggs exported and on eggs sold on the home market. They are very small. A big retailer would have the slight advantage in purchasing eggs directly from producers of not having to pay that fee, and in such a case we may serve notice on such retailers that we will require them to registers in the register of retailers. We can then collect the required fee for any eggs that they may purchase from producers. It is not intended that the provision should apply to retailers in general. It is only intended to apply to very big retailers who might have an unfair advantage over wholesalers compared with the present position.
Before concluding I would like to say that the Agricultural Produce (Eggs) Consultative Council, on which body there are representatives of wholesalers, of dealers, and purchasers, have agreed in general with the provisions of this Bill. I believe the Bill is essential to the well-being of the egg industry as a whole, and it has been designed with the object of placing the industry in the position which it should occupy, having regard to the natural advantages of this country for egg production. At this stage I do not want to go into the point as to our relative position with regard to prices on the foreign market. No doubt Deputies will quote figures, but we think it necessary to bring in this legislation, because we believe we can get a better price for our eggs on the foreign market than we have been getting. We believe that by getting a reputation for Irish eggs as fresh eggs we can, therefore, get a much better price than we are getting at the moment.
I want to warn Deputies, however, against this because I think some time ago I might have made the mistake myself, that you cannot compare the price of, say, North of Ireland eggs with eggs produced in this part of the country because the standards are not the same. In other words, you would get a bigger weight of North of Ireland eggs in the standard that corresponds to ours. As far as I can find out, taking weight for weight, fresh eggs against fresh eggs, the North of Ireland eggs are getting about 1½d. a dozen more than ours at the moment. In addition to that, remember we are paying a bounty. So that there is a good margin for us to make up. If we got the reputation of Irish eggs on the British market that they should have if they were fresh we should get, say, 1½d. or perhaps even more per dozen for our eggs than we are getting at the moment. There is one thing the North of Ireland eggs have that we cannot get, that is, North of Ireland eggs are not marked; in other words, they are home produced eggs to the British purchaser. Our eggs are marked. As I said here before in this House it is, if you like, one of the penalties we have to pay for being separated from the United Kingdom. But we can come near, I am quite sure, the price of the United Kingdom egg if we get a reputation for having a good egg.
There is one other thing I want to say before I sit down and that is that in the Department of Agriculture, I think, both in the time of my predecessor and my own time, we have been rather strict in the administration of these Egg Acts. Whenever we found that there were, say, three or four forfeitures in a year from any particular exporter we came and cancelled the licences. I can assure the House that if this Bill goes through both Houses and becomes law, I have no intention of relaxing in that way. In fact, I think it would be well to be even more strict than we have been in the past. We want to be fair, of course, and I think that egg exporters will admit that they are never taken too shortly; they generally get very good notice; they are warned and so on before their licences are cancelled. As I say, I think there will be no relaxation in the future in administering this Act if it is passed and, if anything, I think we should be a bit more strict and see if we can at all get the standard of Irish eggs improved whether for the foreign market or for home consumption.