Agricultural Produce (Eggs) (No. 2) Bill, 1938—Second Stage.

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 When this Bill comes into operation, the provisions of the 1924 and 1930 Acts will be repealed.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.

Mr. Brennan

There are two questions I would like to ask the Minister before the discussion starts. One is with regard to retailers: Can a keeper of a poultry farm, not being registered as a retailer, supply eggs direct to customers? The second question is with regard to premises. Does that cut out the buying on the roadside by way of lorries or cars? Are they to be regarded as premises or can eggs not be bought on the roadside in future?

As I explained, we are not dealing with retailers except we serve special notices on them. They will be quite free to carry on as at present. Of course the law will apply as regards exposing dirty eggs for sale but, apart from that, a poultry farmer can retail his eggs to anybody.

With regard to collecting eggs, dealers can collect as usual except that they must register and there will be stricter provision with regard to the containers and so on in which they collect the eggs.

Would the Minister consider the advisability of sending a complimentary copy of his speech to the wholesalers when he is sending out the licences?

I probably will.

Mr. Brennan

I was sorry to hear the Minister say there would have to be drastic extension of Government control in this matter because I am afraid the experience we have in this country, and practically every other country, of Government control of any industry of any type or even portion of an industry has not been very satisfactory, and I think if there could be some other way besides an extension of drastic Government control it would probably be better.

What is it?

Mr. Brennan

But we have to consider this new Act in all its implications. We are here legislating, or supposed to be legislating, for the betterment of the egg trade and poultry industry generally. I wonder if we are. Are we satisfied that we are? I entirely agree with the Minister that any steps that are necessary to be taken to see that we get a better price for our eggs ought to be taken. I entirely agree with that. But I wonder if all the regulations which we have laid down in this very comprehensive and very far-reaching Bill will have the desired effect. The Minister, after all, has not told us, in introducing this Bill, what were the losses which we suffered as the result of inadequate marking of eggs or anything else. He has told us there were certain forfeitures, that certain people lost their licences but, on the whole, we do not know whether the country generally has lost very much by the laxity, if you like, of the law.

Reading over this Bill, and particularly after listening to the Minister, we find that there are a lot of clauses in this Bill which are imposing new costs upon the people who are in the egg trade. I am not speaking for the egg trade at all, but I do presume that what will happen is that the cost will be handed down, and that the producer will in fact get a worse price for his eggs than he did before the Bill was introduced at all. We have registered premises, we have registration fees, we have retailers' fees, we have annual fees, and we have eggs acquisition fees. In addition to that, the Minister told us that there will have to be certain records taken and kept which appear to me to be all-embracing. Those records will require a clerk of some kind always in attendance to see that they are kept. It may be necessary. If it is necessary, it is very unfortunate, but, as I said, our object is to try and get a better price for eggs. Are we going to get it that way? Our object also ought to be to get more production of eggs. Are we going to get it this way? That will be the test of whether we are doing good or ill. One would imagine that we were legislating for a thriving industry. We are not, as a matter of fact. We are legislating for an industry that, very unfortunately, has shown a considerable drop for the last five or six years. In 1931, the price of our exported eggs was £2,181,000. In 1937, it was £857,000. That is taken from the figures published by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. That being so, we ought to concentrate all our efforts on the production of more eggs, and, by all means, better eggs, and, by all means, in better condition.

What I am uneasy about is that the restrictions which this Bill carries with it, and the implications of the various clauses in it will not bring us better prices, and will not hold out any inducements to people to produce more eggs, or to produce more poultry. Those are the things I would like to see being done at the present time. I would like to see the Minister and the Government, and every person interested in this question, going into the matter fully and endeavouring to find out what was at the root of the failure of the egg industry. Why is it there? If it has got to the position in which it is now because of the laxity of regulations, then let us tighten things up. I am afraid that is not being done; I am afraid the rot has come from some other cause, and we ought to try to eliminate that cause. I do not think we are doing it here.

If we consider this Bill we will find —at least to my mind this is the position—that there are some things in it that are not convincing; there are some things in it that require more explanation than the Minister has given. Section 3 sets out that the Minister is entitled to give a certificate for efficiency. I should like to know from the Minister in what way are people going to become efficient in this connection. How do they become efficient? Is there to be a school at which certificates will be issued, or will the Minister grant a certificate on the word of somebody who possibly has not much knowledge of the matter? Will the granting of the certificate in this matter require possibly the attendance of a T.D. of the right or the wrong colour, or any colour, or will a letter have to be sent to the Minister saying, "Please give a certificate to so-and-so?" I do not know how the Minister is to certify a person to be fit and efficient in testing, grading and packing eggs. How does the Minister propose to do it? If it is going to be done at all, it ought to be done in the right manner.

Now we come to the registration of premises. Section 12 sets out that the Minister shall cause to be kept a register to be known as the register of wholesalers, a register to be known as the register of dealers, a register of retailers, and a register of preservers. In sub-section 3 of that section it is stated that premises registered in any one of the registers shall not while so registered be capable of being registered in any other of the said registers. I would like to know how that will affect wholesalers who might also be retailers. Can they not be both? I think in country towns they are for the most part wholesalers and retailers. They are people who buy eggs and are wholesalers and exporters and they also are the people from whom the public in the locality buy eggs—the people in the towns buy their eggs from them. I would like to know how this section is going to operate in such circumstances.

We have under Sections 13, 14 and 15 fixed fees to be paid by the various people who are registered. The Minister informed me in reply to a question just now that he may not demand that certain people should be registered at all. If that is so, I do not see where is the purpose of having registration under this Bill. If the Minister thinks we ought to have drastic Government control he ought not to be letting people out by the back door. If he thinks it is necessary to have registration, then we ought to have it.

I would like to put one point to the Minister. It is a point that was put to me very forcibly, and there may be a good deal to be said in favour of it. If I were to consult my own convenience, or the convenience of my neighbours, possibly I might not make the suggestion. Very likely the Minister knows that eggs in Denmark must be sold in the open market, sold to registered dealers in the open market, and the person engaged in the wholesale purchase of eggs cannot engage in any other business. A case was put up to me, and the person who men tioned it said there was a good deal in favour of it, and a great deal in it that was quite reasonable. The point was that the purchase of eggs on the roadside and in shops other than those belonging to egg dealers, has led largely to the abandonment of the small towns. I think that is quite true.

I think that if eggs had to be sold in the small towns in the open market, and not in shops that do other business; if they had to be sold in premises which are used only for the egg trade, you would have the people still supporting the small towns.

That point was put to me with a great deal of force, and I think there is a great deal of truth in it. We know that the small towns are becoming down and out, and if we have an opportunity of doing something for them, we should take every advantage of it. If we could succeed in bringing the people into the towns in order to support the towns, and if we could succeed in having the eggs bought in the towns only, then it might be a good day's work. It might be said that I am there speaking possibly against my own interests, but I maintain that the interests of the small towns in different parts of the country come before individual interests. I think it is a point worth considering.

I should like to ask the Minister if he ever has had any complaints with regard to the transport companies in the matter of eggs. I have heard a good deal of complaints about transport companies, and particularly shipping companies, complaints with regard to delays and other matters of a similar nature. As a matter of fact, it was alleged on one occasion—I do not know what truth is in this—that the delay in delivering certain packages of eggs which were declared to be stale when they arrived at their destination, was due to the shipping companies. Is the Minister satisfied with regard to transport facilities? If there are any difficulties in that connection, we ought to try to meet them.

I hope the Minister will not be in any hurry with the Committee Stage of this Bill. I regard this as a very important Bill. There is no other industry which I could regard as of so much importance to the small farmers, no industry which means so much in connection with the contentment of the people and of the country generally. After all, the contentment of a family generally lies with the housewife. The money derived from this industry, in the past at any rate, was the money on which the country people traded; it was the money which gave them any little comforts they had. I declare that the drop in that line during the last five years has been responsible for a lot of the discontent that has been observed in this country. I ask the Minister again not to hurry with the Committee Stage, because the Bill is very important. All the information that can possibly be got from any persons interested in this industry ought to be got before we devise this machinery. We must make an effort to meet all points and have an eye all the time on this particular aspect, that we want more eggs and that we want more money for the eggs. These are the main essentials. Unless we are going to attain that standard, the Bill is not worth the paper it is written on.

Is the Minister satisfied as to the handling of eggs by the shipping companies and are eggs handled in this country in the same manner as eggs are handled in other countries?

In the main, I like this Bill and I do not quite appreciate the number of objections that Deputy Brennan has to it. I do not like his suggestion about the selling of eggs in the open market, even for the purpose of maintaining our small country towns. In my judgment, it would cut across the whole purpose of the Bill; it would cut across the whole purpose of improving the quality of the eggs, and in my opinion that is the vital thing. Deputy Brennan said he wanted to see more eggs produced. I agree with that, but I would regret that more eggs were being produced in this country if they were not of the proper quality. I want more eggs, but I want eggs of better quality. Not only that, but I want the very best quality eggs. The question for the House and for the country to consider is how to attain that object—more eggs and eggs of better quality. If the quality is right, then the price will improve and the quantity will improve.

In my opinion any suggestion of incorporating in this Bill a clause with regard to the selling of eggs in the open market—the open market being any market in a country town where markets are held—is not useful. That is to say to have the housewife or the husband going into market once a week marketing the eggs for the upkeep of the town and bringing back goods with them. I think that suggestion will be fatal to this Bill. These matters should be discussed in a frank and open way and the opinion of the House should be got as to the general betterment of this egg and poultry industry. Deputy Brennan referred to the background of this Bill which is also fatal to its usefulness. This Bill is going to impose fresh burdens with regard to the egg industry. You may improve the prices but any benefit given that way you take away by licensing fees and levies on the eggs sold. In this you are doing one thing that is certain to destroy the whole purpose of the Bill and you will bring no advantage to the people engaged in the industry. I am not at all objecting to its rigidity or even to the harshness in the machinery of the measure. Unfortunately I am afraid these things are all required.

The Minister has told the House about the two preceding Bills introduced here to deal with this industry and while he maintains these brought about an improvement in the egg trade, I regret to say that they did not fulfil the purpose for which they were intended. We are a very peculiar people. It is better to be quite frank and I do not mind being unpopular for saying this. We are a people who once we get into a rut dislike being told we are in that rut. We do not like anybody to suggest to us a way of getting out of the rut. I know it is not easy to get out of a rut. I want to see the rigidity that is in the Bill maintained. But I tell the Minister now that the Bill is quite useless unless he goes further and takes up the question of the background to which Deputy Brennan referred.

I suggest that the Minister should have an examination as to why there is a decline in the production of eggs. I should think that such an inquiry would not take a very long time. The Minister himself is quite well aware of the cause of that decline. I have stated in this House and elsewhere in the course of the last five or six years that I was convinced that the people on the land are as hard-working and as industrious as they ever were. Yet there is a decline in this branch of our agricultural industry. If there is a decline and the figures speak eloquently for themselves, the decline is not due to the mothers and daughters, the wives and sisters of the farmers of this State. The cause lies elsewhere. I suggest that it is no use making the regulations set out in this Bill unless the Minister takes his courage in his hand and goes further in an examination of the background. These levies now proposed are bound to depress the price of eggs. That is so unless the levies are imposed on a much larger national production. The overhead charges are too much for the industry and must be reduced. The House has the figures of production in the egg industry for 1932 as compared with 1937. I think it is true that there is an improvement in the hen population of the country.

I think there is. But the Minister knows why there has been a decline in 1937 as compared with 1932. That is because the cost of the feeding of poultry has risen so much in the last six years that housewives have ceased to keep poultry. That increase in the cost of feeding stuffs was a tragic and fatal thing to the industry. The Minister will probably say "that is now all over, the economic war has been settled, and you can begin to take up the business now." The Minister should remember that you cannot repair in a day or in a year the energetic efforts of six years towards destroying the industry. The breeding stocks were injured and many people went out of poultry keeping. Government action got them soured. The people engaged in the industry more or less gave it up Something will now have to be given them, some inducements offered them so as to bring them back again into production. I fear that when the terms of this Bill are divulged to the people they will say: "Yes, the Minister in the last six years killed the industry because of the cost of feeding stuffs, and he is now going to give it the knock-out blow by these harsh, rigid and penal regulations."

The Minister should bring in a Bill that would give an assurance to the producers of eggs—the mothers and daughters of the agricultural community of this country—that every effort will be made to give them feeding stuffs at a price as cheap as they can be got elsewhere in relation to the market in which the eggs are sold. The Minister dealt rather extensively with this Bill. When replying I would like him to go more fully into the question with regard to the cost of this measure. It may be quite all right to give £1 annually for a licence plus so much of the value of the eggs exported if a man is doing an enormous trade. A big turnover would enormously reduce the effect of the levy on the big man. But take the case of the smaller man, and there will be smaller men engaged in the industry in this country. It would be a bad thing to make this a big monopolistic industry. There will always be small men in the trade. These impositions will press heavily on the small man, who will have to pay so much for licence and so much annual levies on the eggs he exports. These things will fall much heavier on him than on the big man. These impositions should be on a graded scale. I do not see why this annual charge should be imposed at all. There is a charge of £1 for a licence and the man should be allowed to hold that licence without any further charge until he forfeits it.

The Minister, I am sure, will agree that over and above his charges, other charges are implied. There will be the registration of the premises, and there will have to be skilled persons as testers. I suppose it will be quite simple with regard to the qualifications of the testers. I expect that the testers will have to go for training to some station beforehand, and that there they will have to undergo an examination before they will get a certificate as competent testers. Then there will be the question of bookkeeping. Certain books will have to be kept. That will mean increased office work, and this will add to the charges on the eggs. The necessity of reducing the charges as much as possible should be obvious to the Minister. This is an industry that has suffered from very keen world competition. While enacting legislation to improve the quality of eggs, because quality is everything, this House should not, conjointly with that, impose such terms as will injure the industry in its output, and all these charges—charges here, there and everywhere—are going to affect adversely an increase in production.

I ask the Minister to be sympathetic, particularly when we come to Committee Stage, towards suggestions for the cutting out of all charges that can be avoided in respect of the administration of the Bill. He will see that with regard to testing, and the keeping of registers, certain costs will be involved, because the tester will not be the man who will keep the books. He will be quite busy enough, and some other clerical staff will be required for such work as taking the dates of the eggs when marked, the dates when they are sent out, and other such matters. The clerical part will be quite complicated in itself, and it will involve a considerable imposition on the industry, and I think the House should address itself on Committee Stage to reducing as far as possible any impositions on the industry arising out of machinery of the Bill.

I welcome the Bill, and I regret to have to say that the people did not take full advantage of the two former Bills which, although they were regarded as drastic, were enacted for the benefit of the people concerned, and their benefit only. This is a matter on which no legislation of any kind should be required. The people themselves should see the urgent necessity for quality, quality and quality in this industry. It is a regrettable fact that when you go out and buy a dozen eggs and use them over two or three days, you can never say that you got one absolutely fresh egg out of the dozen. That is a very regrettable thing to have to say. As I say, I like this Bill, but I do not like all the impositions that are in it, and I think the State would be wise to make some contribution out of general taxes towards the costs that are involved in it, so as to ensure that the benefit given with one hand will not be almost taken away with the other. That would be very bad because, as I say, the industry wants a fillip and a pretty strong tonic at the moment. I think the costs involved in the Bill will not tend towards that end, and I think the House should address itself to mitigating all those costs because this should be a very important branch of the agricultural industry.

We have heard figures quoted by Deputy Brennan. They speak for themselves and they are regrettable. The only fear that I have with regard to this Bill is that if we put all these impositions into force, in view of the psychological state of the people engaged in the production side of the industry, the industry will be further handicapped. Those engaged in it will resent them and go further out of production. We should rather devote ourselves to giving them an incentive at this stage. It may be unfortunate that this Bill has to be introduced at this stage when they are rather in the dumps after what has happened in the last five or six years, because they may consider it a further blow at them, another impertinence and another interference with their liberties. I think the Bill should be accepted as quickly as possible so that the producers may secure the benefit of it. I am not concerned with the wholesalers or the exporters—they are merely the channels through which the business passes. The only thing I am concerned with is the industry proper —the production of eggs, more eggs, and the best quality of eggs.

The picture presented by the economic war should be got out of the minds of Deputies once and for all, if they are going to approach the consideration of measures of this kind on their merits.

Is that so?

The people have, rightly or wrongly, and I presume the majority of the people are right, given an expression of opinion upon the incidents of the past six years, and I think we should start off on the assumption that they are right and approach the consideration of such measures as this absolutely on their merits, without any reference to the quotation of figures which have no relation to such measures. Deputy Brennan, for instance, quoted from what I presume are Parliamentary records the value of the eggs exported in 1931 compared with the value of the exports in 1937. That kind of quotation is not going to help any Deputy interested in a measure like this to come to a considered conclusion on its merits. This Bill, in my opinion, is introduced for the purpose of helping the egg producer to get a better cash price for what he is going to produce in the future. I am in favour of any measure introduced by a Minister or a member of this House that will make the producer of eggs, butter, bacon, or any other commodity free from the activities of the pawnbroker. I want to see the people who produce eggs selling them, not at a pawnbroker's price, but at a fair competitive price. I want to see, and I am sure the Bill will help, the producer getting a better price for his eggs in future, because the price of everything depends on the law of supply and demand. If we are going to get a better demand from our principal market for eggs in the future we shall have to produce eggs of a better quality than we have produced in the past, and we shall have to give more expeditous delivery to the people who are prepared to buy them from us. In that way we are going to get a bigger demand and a better price. Does Deputy McMenamin deny that the price in the future will depend, and, in the past, depended, on the demand in the home market as well as in the foreign market?

The quality.

We will not get an increased demand from people who want good eggs and who can get them from other countries if we are not able to produce and sell eggs to the people prepared to buy a better quality of eggs than what we have been producing and selling in the past. I believe the intention of the Minister in introducing this measure is to provide a better market and, consequently and automatically, a better price. It is regrettable, as Deputy McMenamin says, that legislation of this kind has to be introduced, but I suppose that if there were no Parliament we would have no export trade, or probably a good deal less than we have at present. Things would be a little different, and Deputy McMenamin, if he were an ordinary citizen and not subject to the laws of this Assembly, would be worse off than he is to-day, or has been for the last six years. It would be possible to argue that kind of thing in the usual debating society style for the next five or six years and get nowhere. I regret as much as Deputy McMenamin that people have to be tied up by rules and regulations, but speaking from some knowledge and experience of the egg business, and particularly the export side of that business, I think this measure generally is needed if we are going to have a better market and a better price for our producers of eggs. With that object in view, I have no hesitation whatever and no reservation of any kind in encouraging the Minister to go ahead with the Bill. I do agree with Deputy Brennan that a reasonable time should be given between the date of the passing of the Second Stage and Committee Stage in order to give those who are interested in making the measure better than it is a reasonable opportunity of doing so.

The egg and poultry industry in this country has always been a very valuable industry, particularly to the smallholder and the cottier throughout the country. I absolutely disagree with Deputy Davin when he says that we should not make any reference to statistics and figures when we are speaking about this Bill.

I did not say that. I said that the statistics relating to the economic war did not help us to consider a measure of this kind on its merits.

Well, whether they are the statistics of the economic war or not, such figures must give us some indication of the flow of trade from this country to Great Britain and from other countries, who are our chief competitors, engaged in this line of industry. Now, in 1930 this country exported to Great Britain 4,735,000 great hundreds of eggs, and in 1937 that export had dropped to 2,458,000 great hundreds. On the other hand, Denmark, our chief competitor on the British market, exported to Great Britain 6,564,000 great hundreds of eggs, and in three years, in 1937, increased that figure to 9,993,000 great hundreds. Take the case, even, of Holland. In 1934 Holland's export of eggs to Great Britain was as low as 944,000 great hundreds, whereas the return of their trade last year, 1937, had increased enormously to the figure of 4,310,000 great hundreds of eggs. Now, these are very impressive figures, and they show you that our chief competitors, such as Denmark and Holland, have practically ousted us out of that important market.

Because their trade has gone up in one case, by 500 per cent., and in another case by 200 per cent., while ours has dropped by more than 50 per cent. As I have said, this has seriously affected the people in the country—the people on the hillside, such as the small cottier or small farmer throughout the country, and the places, generally, where you had thrift in the home. That has practically gone, and as far as I am concerned, I can say that any Bill that is going to help to improve and promote the value of this industry will get my whole-hearted support. I hold, and I think we must all admit, that eggs are produced in this country, in the majority of cases, under very bad conditions, due to want of cleanliness and proper housing of our poultry. Very often, eggs are marketed here in a very dirty and poor condition, and there is undoubtedly an attempt being made by a lot of people to preserve eggs from the period of the year when eggs are plentiful to another period of the year when eggs are scarce and consequently dear. Hence you have the danger of a big percentage of our eggs being marketed at a particular time of the year when they are stale and going across to the other side, thus giving a bad name to Irish eggs. Now, we do not want that, and anybody who is interested in this industry must welcome any attempt made by the Government or by the Minister to clear the good name of Irish eggs and to prevent that kind of thing happening in this country.

I should like to join with Deputy Brennan and Deputy McMenamin in pointing out that there may be a danger of this measure being a bit too drastic, and that the imposition of licence fees and all that sort of thing may make overhead charges a bit too high, with the result that there may be a danger of putting certain people out of the trade, thereby doing away with a certain amount of necessary competition in the small towns and villages. I hold that we should preserve competition with a view to seeing that the producer gets the best possible price. One sub-section of Section 28 of the Bill says that a registered wholesaler or a registered dealer shall not, without the consent of the Minister, carry on in his or any of his registered premises any business other than the business in respect of which such premises are registered. Now, most of the people dealing in eggs in this country only deal in them more or less as a sideline, and I hope the Minister does not mean to put these people out of trade and thus kill the competition of people who deal in eggs simply as a sideline. That would be disastrous, and I think the Minister ought to reconsider that section at any rate. Of course, he puts in a condition "with the consent of the Minister," but I think he might drop that and leave it some such thing as "provided that the premises are otherwise suitable." I think that the Bill ought not to prevent dealers carrying on any other line of business.

To my mind, there are other causes, outside the marketing of eggs altogether, that have affected this industry so seriously. One of these causes, I think, we could find a remedy for, and the responsibility rests to some extent with the Minister's Department. I know that a good deal has been done down through the country to encourage the right breed of poultry, but I think, and I believe, that the people are very ignorant as to the right period of the year to breed pullets so that they will commence to lay at the proper time of the year. In other words, we are selling our eggs to people on the other side who want regular quantities of good eggs all the year round, and we are in a somewhat similar position to that of the butter trade in that respect —that we produce a big quantity of eggs at one time of the year and a very small quantity at another time of the year. Now, the people against whom we have to go into competition in the British market are people who are catering for a regular market and who are supplying that demand all the year round. That is a point that ought not to be forgotten by the Minister if he and his Department are going to throw their full weight into an effort to improve this important industry in this country. It is a point that should be attended to. I know that it is outside the scope of this Bill, but I simply mention it because I believe that a Bill of this kind is of very little use if you do not get down to the root of the matter, to the real problem and the real canker that is eating away and rotting this industry. As I have said before, I am glad that this effort is being made, and the only danger that I see about the Bill is that it may tend to increase overhead charges to such an extent that competition may be killed.

I think, Sir, we can all agree that this Bill is necessary, and we will be prepared to co-operate with the Minister for Agriculture in putting the Bill into effect, and in taking any steps he may consider necessary to develop the egg industry in this country. There is no doubt that egg production here has declined during the past few years. It does not really matter now what were the causes of that decline. What really matters is that active and effective steps must be taken to put production on the upgrade once more. I think the Minister will appreciate the fact that the people who are engaged in egg production in this country are mainly, perhaps, the poorest section of the community; that is, the agricultural workers and small farmers. Any measures that he may think necessary to adopt must be guided by a realisation of the impoverished condition of that section of the community. Therefore, if it is necessary under this Act to impose certain restrictions in regard to marketing, and certain overhead charges, I think that there should be some definite provision accompanying this Act to give a fillip to the industry. To my mind, the most effective fillip to the egg-producing industry at the present time would be to provide, by State aid, for the production of young pullets at certain periods of the year when they are required. There is no doubt, as Deputy Hughes has pointed out, that there are certain seasons of the year when it is desirable that production or incubation of poultry should be carried on extensively.

Perhaps for the past 20 or 30 years the Department of Agriculture and their lecturers and instructresses throughout the country have been advocating increased production at those particular periods, but apparently without any particular success. If, instead of lecturing, a really effective step were taken, that is to provide, either free of cost or at a very reduced price, eggs for hatching at the particular periods when they are required to be hatched, I think it would go a long way towards solving the problem of the irregular supplies of eggs in this country. I think it should not be outside the power of the Minister to devise some scheme by which either eggs or young chicks would be distributed at a certain period of the year. In that way regular supplies would be encouraged.

I am making this plea because, as I have said before, the people engaged in the egg-producing industry are not big industrialists or big capitalists who can go into the facts and figures. They are people who are struggling to eke out a living, and, of course, the tendency with them is to dispose of their eggs when they are fetching a good price, and to use them for hatching purposes when they are cheap. That is absolutely to the detriment of the industry, and I think the Minister should take effective measures to cope with that problem on the lines which I have suggested.

I do not agree with Deputy Brennan that the collection of eggs should be restricted or prohibited in any way, or that farmers should be compelled to take their eggs into the towns to dispose of them. I think that would be only an additional expense and an additional hardship on the producers. I think that if the egg dealers or collectors provided a regular service by which eggs would be collected regularly each week or at definite periods it would help considerably towards preventing the appearance of such a large percentage of stale eggs on the market. I think also that there should be careful consideration of the fact that the people engaged in the industry have not sufficient capital to set their production on proper lines. In most cases the people engaged in the production of eggs have not the necessary capital to provide themselves with proper poultry houses and the other equipment which is required for the proper production of eggs and in this regard also the Department of Agriculture could help the producer. It could give them some encouragement to extend production on the lines which I have suggested by supplying them either with eggs or chicks at a certain period of the year when they are required, and also by assisting them with either loans or grants to provide proper houses for their poultry. In that way the Department would be encouraging the producer to get back once more into production. They would be helping him to recover from that feeling of acute depression under which the poultry keeping industry is labouring and to regain a certain amount of confidence in the future. It is only by inspiring the people who are engaged in production, or the people who are likely to engage in production, with a feeling of confidence and a feeling that the Government of this country and the officials of the Government are doing their utmost to co-operate with them and to help them to get a proper price for their produce that you can promote the development of the egg producing industry.

I was rather amused at Deputy Davin bringing in the economic war. The only way in which he could bring it in was by accusing someone else of having done so. He was the only person who referred to it from start to finish in this debate. There were certain figures quoted here, and they were quoted for a certain purpose—to show what I believe the Minister would be the first to acknowledge, that a certain problem does exist, to suggest that the problem should be faced, and that this Bill was only one of the methods by which that problem could be faced, namely, the decline in our egg and poultry trade, especially in our export trade. It was suggested, for instance, by speakers from these benches that one of the causes of that was something which is not connected with the economic war, the price of feeding stuffs. Deputy Cogan referred to the causes of this decline. We need not go into them unless the causes continue; I think he suggested that they were continuing. Other suggestions were made about the production of a more regular supply of eggs. Everybody who has read the drastic provisions of this Bill will realise that it only goes a certain distance to solve the problem which the Minister has to face. I rose merely for one particular purpose, and that is to pass on to the Minister for his consideration a suggestion which has been made to me. It was made by a man who is interested perhaps more in those who were employed in connection with the shipping of eggs than on behalf of the shippers themselves. You have had rather drastic legislation up to the present. You have more drastic legislation now. Is it not just possible that because the legislation is so drastic you cannot drastically use it; that there will be a tendency to let off, as far as you can, the people who commit offences? Very often a man who has committed an offence may be warned. Take the shipper who ships dirty eggs or selected eggs. He may be warned by the Department that they will have to take steps against him and withdraw his licence. His employees may not know anything about that. He possibly employs five to 20 men. The suggestion has been made to me that the Minister would be able to enforce a piece of legislation more regularly and perhaps more efficiently if the actual provision were somewhat less drastic; if, for instance, in this respect you followed the analogy, say, of the case of a licensed premises, and, on the first offence, have the man brought before the court, fined, and his licence endorsed, with the proviso that on repetition, just as in the case of a licence for a public-house, the licence be withdrawn. That puts both the shipper and his employees on the watch, and you will not have, as I understand may occur at present, a great number of people suddenly thrown out without any warning. It will act as a tonic, so to speak—so it has been put to me— on the shipper on the one hand and his employees on the other. I merely pass that on to the Minister for his consideration.

I should like to know from the Minister whether it is necessary for a cottier, who may only handle a dozen eggs in the week, or a farmer who may oblige his neighbour by giving him a dozen eggs, to register. There is some doubt in connection with that matter.

I should like to point out that I have not heard much reference to the question of the handling of eggs by shipping companies. I have often seen eggs handled by shipping companies and I am not at all satisfied that sufficient care is taken in the handling of them. I have in mind that eggs which have been inspected and properly handled could be very badly abused by being carelessly handled in shipping. While these eggs might not be very badly damaged they might still have a very bad effect on the other side when they are handled there. I am inclined to think that there should be some restriction also on the handling of eggs by shipping companies and I should like the Minister to deal with that matter in his reply.

There are a few points with regard to this matter of eggs which ought to be referred to here. First of all, I should like to apologise to Deputy Davin if I may appear to come near the economic war situation, because it is very hard to keep away from it, although, happily, in connection with eggs it is possible to get away from it and talk about a very serious aspect of things which arose during the last year. Deputy Hughes referred to the position we are in in the British market in relation to Denmark and Holland, and when we are making drastic regulations for improving, if you like, the production and the marketing of our eggs, it would be well to get some indication from the Minister as to what exactly has been happening during the last 12 months, because so far from our difficulties arising out of the economic war situation during the year 1937 increasing, they were, in fact, getting less. We had made two or three agreements with Great Britain and we were gradually realising the importance of holding our position to the greatest possible extent in the British market. Nevertheless, our exports of eggs to Great Britain in 1937 compared very unfavourably with our exports in 1936; whereas in the case of Denmark and Holland it was quite the reverse. In 1936, we exported to the British market 2,500,000 great hundreds of eggs, but we fell by 614,000 in our exports in 1937. That is, that in the year 1937 our export of eggs to the British market fell by about a quarter of what it was the previous year. On the other hand, in 1937 Denmark succeeded in getting 2,000,000 more great hundreds of eggs into the British market and Holland 500,000; so that whereas we declined by 500,000 great hundreds of eggs last year, Denmark and Holland between them increased by a little more than 2,500,000. It may be the effect of the economic war or it may be an accumulation of difficulties for the producers which came to a difficult point in 1937, but if we are going to introduce regulations that may have an immediate restrictive effect on the production of eggs, particularly by the small producers, who are so important and numerous, it would be well to understand what hapened as between our eggs and the Dutch and Danish eggs in the British market last year, because it is remarkable that we should fall by as much as more than 500,000, while they went up by something more than 2,500,000.

Deputy O'Sullivan spoke of the mixture scheme and the cost of feeding. The Minister has indicated that the cost of feeding is likely to continue rather high during the current year; that is, that he is not going to relax the restriction with regard to the mixture until the end of the current cereal year in about 12 months' time. I would ask the Minister if his attention has been drawn to the report on dairy produce supplies in 1937 issued by the Department of Agriculture in Great Britain, where it is stated that in 1937

"there was a considerable reduction in the output of butter, cheese, eggs and pigs, a movement that was, no doubt, due in part to the high price of feeding stuffs."

If the position has been that in Great Britain the high price of feeding stuffs injured the production of eggs last year, we can easily understand that the production of eggs in this country has been much more interfered with. It was not entirely the fall in the production of eggs in Great Britain that gave rise to the increase from Denmark and Holland. Nevertheless, it is reported that there was a reduction in production there and that in part it was due to the high cost of feeding stuffs.

I submit to the Minister that the present Bill is likely to have a restrictive influence on the smaller producer. Coming on top of the restrictive influence which the cost of feeding stuffs has been at a time when he wants to recover the position we held in that British market for eggs, and particularly when, in view of the increased quantities that went from Holland and Denmark last year, he has to fight serious rivals who are gradually strengthening themselves in the British market, I think the discussion on this measure should not conclude without the Minister saying whether he is contemplating in any way helping the poultry producer by doing something to reduce the cost of feeding stuffs. It should be possible to get rid of whatever surplus oats and barley there will be in the country this year in some other way than by having the price of these hanging round the poultry production situation and the recovery of egg production in the country.

I do not think that we should discuss the situation here without consideration of the position with regard to Germany and the eggs we are sending there. I think the difficulty that some Deputies see in the increased restrictions here ought to be lightened by the Minister telling us, say, the latest funny story from the Department of Agriculture. The Minister has been sending eggs to Germany for the past three years, and no doubt the departmental accountant was faced recently with the job of putting the accounts together. The accounts over a short period up to 31st March, 1935, showed that after spending £190 in administration and £31 10s, sending telegrams he exported £67,900 worth of eggs to Germany and on the transaction the Minister lost £595. In the following year, the year ending 31st March, 1936, after spending £1,350 on administrative expenses and £140 14s. 11d. in sending of telegrams, the Minister exported £121,010 worth of eggs to Germany and made £1,435 6s. 4d. on the transaction. In the third year of his experience he spent £1,559 on administrative expenses, including perhaps the sending of telegrams, because they are not separately accounted for, and succeeded during the year in sending £140,626 worth of eggs to Germany at a net loss of £8,542.

The Minister talks about people who had a bad record as exporters. Probably he did not want to have the Ministry classed in the category of exporters with a bad record, and when he looked at the loss of £8,542 on last year's transaction, a bright thought came into his mind, while he was sucking the tail-end of his pen, and he said, "If we got the £38,147 in bounties such as ordinary exporters would get, we would have made £29,604 on the transaction." On three years' trading in eggs with Germany amounting to £329,554, we are supposed to raise our hats at the thought that if there had been paid to the Minister for Agriculture on these transactions by the Minister for Finance, or whoever is responsible for the payment of bounties, a sum of £77,351, we would have made a profit of £69,581. We are told that at the present time we are discussing trade arrangements with Germany. I should like to know if the restrictions, the extra supervision and extra penalties that are to be imposed on our egg producers and wholesalers, are intended to help or to speed up this valuable trade with Germany. We should like also to know whether the discussions that are going on at present with the German representatives deal in any way with eggs because I personally think that if we cannot do anything better with our eggs than to export them to Germany under these conditions, we might consider other means of disposing of them. We might consider particularly the situation that would arise if there was an outbreak of war between Germany and any other country and the price of eggs went up in other countries. If in that situation we withdrew our egg shipments from Germany, we might be regarded as being no longer friendly, or even neutral. That might easily-be one of those troublesome developments which might later on lead to our being engaged in a war with Germany.

It is bad enough if the public accounts do show these losses, but the side-light on the whole bounty situation that the balance sheet gives us, by showing that if bounties were paid we would have made a profit in this particular way, raises the whole question of the value to the nation of an export trade that has to be supported by bounties. Nevertheless, the position is that we are paying bounties on the export of eggs. Danish and Dutch eggs are subject to a tax of 1/- to 1/9 to which our eggs are not subjected on the British market, so that there is every possibility of improving our position in the British market. There is every possibility that we would not have eggs to export to Germany in the way that we have been exporting them, if we could take real advantage of the situation and understand what has been happening as between our eggs and Danish and Dutch eggs on the British market last year. If we examine carefully the position in regard to feeding stuffs, the Minister must know that there are hundreds of small poultry keepers who were formerly engaged in the production of eggs who are no longer able to carry on even though they might have a fairly good market at their doors.

I would not find it possible to supply Deputy Brennan with the figures which he requires, namely, the losses suffered by not bringing this legislation forward two or three years ago, that is, the loss arising from inadequate marking or allowing the sale of stale eggs to go on. One might, however, get some idea of what we expect to gain by this legislation if, as a result of getting a better egg on the export market, we improve the price of our eggs by 1d. a dozen. That still leaves a margin between Irish eggs and British eggs. If we succeed in improving the price of our eggs by 1d. per dozen, it would mean an increase in the income from our egg exports of £150,000. It is to be presumed that, in that case, the price of eggs on the home market would increase by 1d. per dozen also, so that the producer would get more than £150,000. There has been some talk of the cost of the administration of this scheme. The cost of administration of the present scheme is not, I believe, excessive. The levy that was spoken of here is very small. The levy taken from exporters is 1d. per case of 30 dozen. That is the levy that is taken from eggs that pass through their hands for export and it is not very much. As a result of this new legislation and the more stringent inspection that will be enforced, it is possible that we may have to increase that levy, but I am sure that 2d. per case of 30 dozen on all eggs acquired will be sufficient. That is not a whole lot and it is not going to make a lot of difference to the producer. If Deputies look at the Estimates, they will see that we get a certain Appropriation-in-Aid from these various fees from exporters and we spend then a certain amount on the administration of the Eggs Act. The amount now voted by the State is about £6,000, and I think that a levy of 2d., instead of 1d., will cover any increase in the cost of administration that may be occasioned by an increased number of inspectors.

The next question asked by Deputy Brennan was a very big one—what was the root of the failure of the industry, if you like to put it down as a failure. A number of Deputies discussed that problem. Deputy O'Sullivan accused Deputy Davin of accusing somebody else of starting it with the economic war. Perhaps the Deputy would not believe me if I said that I wished it had started with the economic war because the economic war is now over. If it had started with the economic war, we would have been well over our troubles before now. The decline of the industry really started in 1929. There was a very big decline between 1929 and 1931, a decline of over still further in 1932 and it might be stated that, as the economic war started in 1932, a portion of the decline in that year was due to the economic war. The decline, however, first started in 1929 and went on down to 1937. This year there was a turn in that tendency. First of all the number of poultry in the country began to go up for the first time in June. The number of poultry returned for June this year was higher than the number for June of the previous year and our export trade for the first nine months of this year was greater than for the corresponding nine months of last year. The price is also better, so that all three things in connection with the poultry trade are improving for the first time, and that, I suppose, is somewhat hopeful.

The Minister spoke about the improvement in price in the last nine months. I do not think that we have been furnished with the figures.

I think that this information was only circulated yesterday, and I do not know if it has reached the Deputies yet. As regards the quantity of eggs exported for the nine months of this year there was an increase, as compared with last year, from 2,391,000 to 2,616,000 great hundreds; while the money received increased from £818,000 to £1,095,000. If we look at the matter from the point of view of the producer, we have to add to that the amount of the bounty paid. We can ignore it for the present because it does not make a lot of difference to our argument at the moment. To come back to the cost of feeding-stuffs, I do not know if that will explain the decline. I do not want to misrepresent the position in any way. If you take the ration that is made up for a pig or for a chicken and add up the price of bran, of oatmeal and of the maize meal mixtures as against pure maize, there is not a great difference between the two, because certain feeding-stuffs have been cheaper here all the time. The maize meal mixture was admittedly dearer than the pure maize on the other side.

In England production has gone down terribly. They had an inquiry there to find out what was the root cause of the decline in the industry. The inquiry was held about this time last year, and the committee reported, I think, in February of this year on the decline in the poultry industry in Great Britain. The committee got all the evidence they could and reported eventually. It would appear from this report that the production of eggs in the United King dom increased greatly from 1924 to 1934. Production reached 39.7 million great hundreds in 1934, but then it began to decline, and in 1937 the figure was 36.7. Therefore, you had the same decline in Great Britain as you had here commencing in 1934 and coming down to the present time. It more or less corresponds with the decline here. The latter may be accounted for by the increased cost of feeding stuffs, which commenced to operate in 1934. Deputy McMenamin seems to think that the decline here is due to the increased cost of feeding stuffs. If one relies on that, then some other explanation has to be found for the decline in production in Great Britain. I do not know what the production in Great Britain is this year, but the imports of eggs there have been higher than they were for the same period last year. If eggs are dearer than they were last year, that would seem to indicate that the production is somewhat lower because if production is the same this year as last year, then, with considerably higher imports, one would imagine that the price of eggs there would be lower than last year, but as a matter of fact it is higher. I have no proof of that, except the present price of eggs and the amount of imports.

I am pointing out these matters to show what a frightfully difficult matter this is. What we are aiming at in this Bill is to remedy the situation —to improve the quality, and if we do that then our eggs should fetch an improved price in the foreign market. If we succeed in getting an improved price in the foreign market, then the price of our eggs will go up at home so that if our producers get improved prices that should be followed by increased production. In theory all that looks very good. I do not know whether it will work out in practice or not. It is hard to know what is at the root cause of the whole thing, but I think it is well worth trying what we propose to do in this Bill.

Deputy Brennan asked how the certificate of efficiency is to be given. There is mentioned in the Bill the person who takes charge of an egg packing station. It is set out that he must satisfy the Minister with regard to his efficiency. That is not new. That has been there since 1930. The position is that we do not want to be too hard on people who have been carrying on business. What we say is, that we cannot very well put these people out of business. But we say in the Bill that where a new person is to be appointed, that person must be qualified. Classes are held under the auspices of the Department so that any person who wants to become an egg packer can attend them, submit himself for the examinations held by the inspectors of the Department, and obtain a certificate in that way. No new egg packer can be admitted unless he becomes qualified in that particular way. Perhaps Deputy Brennan would not press the point of having all eggs sold in the market if he considered the matter further, especially in regard to certain regions in the West of Ireland that are better known to him than they are to me—regions where a market town is not within very easy reach of producers. It is surely more convenient for producers who live long distances from market towns to have a collector call at regular intervals to purchase their eggs. They will be collected regularly, perhaps twice a week. A producer might not be inclined to market his eggs twice a week if he had to travel a long distance to a market town, so that what we proposed here has an advantage in that respect.

Deputy Hickey raised a question about transport companies. I do not think we have had any complaints to the effect that the transport companies have been too slow in dealing with the eggs delivered to them. We have had complaints that they are a bit rough in their handling of them, and that eggs get broken. Even as regards that, the complaints have not been persistent, but I can assure the Deputy that I will inquire further into it if it is a serious matter.

With regard to the regulation requiring the delivery of eggs at a port three hours before a boat leaves, how does the Minister think that will affect the trade?

It will not affect the transport people at all. Everyone knows, for instance, that a boat is going to leave the port of Sligo at a certain time. The exporters know it very well. The inspector is waiting there to examine the eggs before they are exported. An exporter comes along 20 minutes before a boat is due to leave with a quantity of eggs. The inspector has no time to examine them, and the exporter says to him that surely he is not going to delay by examining the consignment and thereby have it held up for a week. The most that the inspector can do is to make a cursory examination of the consignment. What we are proposing in the Bill is to compel the exporters to have the eggs there in good time so that the inspector will have an opportunity of examining them.

If there is a rigid enforcement of the regulation, how will it affect the quality of the eggs?

If they are not up to quality we will destroy them, and the exporter will suffer. What I mean is, that if they are bad enough we will destroy them. I agree with Deputy Davin that we should try to approach this matter with an open mind, and not try to blame the economic war or anything else. Our aim should be to try and get at the root cause of the whole thing. The trouble is that it is not easy to do that.

I should have said that when the British inquiry was held, the conclusion, roughly, amounted to this: that they should improve the egg industry and control disease in order to improve the price. We can congratulate ourselves here that we are comparatively free from disease. We are very free from disease, compared with other countries. We are trying to maintain that position if we possibly can by disease control regulations. Our ultimate object is, by improving the quality to improve the price. Really, we are aiming at the same thing that was recommended by the British Commission. I think any commission set up would be likely to recommend the same thing, to try to improve the price, and, of course, control disease.

We are doing a little from year to year on the lines suggested by Deputy Cogan, and that is to encourage the production of early pullets, and to produce stocks for breeding. We are doing that through the county committees. I do not know if we can do any more. Perhaps we can. If it is practical to do more I prefer to look into it to see if it could be done. A very interesting point was raised by Deputy O'Sullivan and it is certainly one I must consider. There is no doubt that if a law is too drastic the danger is that it will not be administered, because one is always afraid to go the full length of the law in case the results may be too drastic. There is the danger of not getting the same effect if law is made too drastic. In this case if we forfeited a package or two probably we would not take a man off the register unless there was some other cause. I have never known it done for one case. Perhaps if we had to take notice one week and again in a week or two we would warn him that if he was caught again, in addition to the eggs being forfeited, he would be liable to be removed from the register. Usually that is done two or three times before notice goes out that a man is going to be removed from the register. There is the fear, too, that the employees may not get to hear of that and that therefore they are not alive to the terrible danger that may arise. I do not know any way of getting over that, but it is a point that I will have to consider. I imagine that in such a case the proprietor would go straight to his employees and warn them that if they were not more careful the concern might be put off the register.

As to Deputy Everett's point, the producer is not registered. A retailer is not registered unless he does a very big business in eggs bought by him from producers. The cottier or small farmer who produces eggs and sells to a retailer is not required to register at all. I do not know what point Deputy Mulcahy wanted to make about the German trade. In carrying on trade with Germany the circumstances were such that instead of losing we saved the State £70,000 by not having to pay a certain amount of bounty that would have had to be paid if the eggs went to Great Britain. If we saved the Exchequer by State trading £70,000 on that trade with Germany I do not see why anyone should find fault. I can imagine what an attack there would be if we neglected that opportunity. Such neglect would be pointed out to the Dáil as an opportunity that was missed of saving the State a certain amount of money by sending the eggs to Germany rather than to Great Britain. We are still paying bounty on exports. If the bounty is paid to the exporter, as the State was the exporter, I cannot see very well how we could act otherwise than we did. I do not see how the Minister could pay bounty to the Minister for Agriculture. We thought the best thing was to present the accounts and to show what the loss was. I gave that direction as I thought that was the only way it should be done.

If the present trade negotiations with Germany result in carrying on the egg trade, and if the Department pays the full bounty on eggs, if we make a little profit on the business, surely we ought to do so. If we lose a little on our business with Germany, but not as much as by paying the bounty in Great Britain, surely that is only a matter of accounting. If we can save the State a certain sum of money why not do so by continuing to send eggs to Germany? I do not think there is much in the argument that if Germany went to war with some other country we might be compelled to cease exporting eggs owing to a variation in prices. We would carry out our contract naturally.

In connection with the present negotiations with Germany, am I to understand that the Minister is likely to enter into a contract that would be definite and binding for shipping quantities of eggs to Germany?

I am not sure. I do not think that would be the case. The negotiations are not yet closed. It is true, as Deputy Davin mentioned, that the Danes and the Dutch are sending eggs to Great Britain and are paying the duty. On the other hand, we are sending eggs there and paying the bounty, so that our producers have a double advantage over the Danish and Dutch producers. We wish them luck in that and hope that production here will be increased.

I should like to know whether, through our trade machinery in Great Britain, any circumstances arose last year under which the Danes increased their exports to Great Britain by 25 per cent., while our exports fell by 24 per cent. The Dutch also increased their exports by 13 per cent. Has any inquiry been made through the Trade Department in Great Britain as to the exact circumstances which made that possible?

I do not see that our Trade Department in Great Britain could do anything in that matter. I am sure the reply would be that if we sent more eggs they would be absorbed on the British market. We did not send them, and that is the big question. It is hard to find the cause. I believe that if we could increase prices, by improving quality, we would get increased production. That is what this Bill aims at.

Is the Minister convinced that there was nothing, apart from the situation that existed last year, to explain the difference between our exports and those of Denmark and Holland?

We did not send the eggs.

Does Denmark pay a bounty?

I do not think the Danish Government does.

Would the Minister favourably consider an amendment on the Committee Stage reducing the period of detention below the hours mentioned? From experience I can say that that provision is going to cause considerable upset in trade.

That would be a regulation. We are taking power to prescribe these things.

I think the hours are mentioned in the Bill, and that the Minister also mentioned them.

This is an important point, and it is likely to upset the existing transport arrangements.

I have not thought about it yet.

Question put and agreed to.

I wonder if there is any objection to taking the Committee Stage of this Bill next week?

I understand Deputy Brennan suggested, as there are so many people involved, that he would like to ask for some delay about taking the Committee Stage.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, November 16th.