I question as to whether this money is being well spent for the purpose set out in the Resolution, and I doubt if this House adverts at all to one of the inevitable consequences of the Bill, which the Resolution is designed to provide for. If this money is spent in accordance with the terms of the Bill now before the House, one of the effects is going to be entirely remote from the egg trade altogether because you are going to introduce a virtual revolution into the whole system of rural trading. At present eggs are used very largely as currency in the trade of what we, in rural Ireland, know as the country shop. There the shop is not one in a town or village but one on the roadside or outside the town. In towns and villages business is usually transacted on the ready cash or credit system. In country shops business is very largely conducted by payments made in kind and very frequently these payments are made in eggs. A great many of these country shops employ additional carts, and these carts, going from door to door, offer their merchandise to the farmers' wives. We, who live in the country, know that there is no ready money in the house, but the woman of the house buys what she requires and brings out whatever eggs are on the dresser and pays for her requirements with these eggs. That is the way trade is done. If the lady in Rathmines is entitled to get her groceries delivered to her twice daily, why should not a woman living in any townland in the country enjoy the same amenity, if she is prepared to pay for it? Why should we, by law, forbid the country woman, in effect, having her groceries delivered into her house, and compel her to go two or three miles over a country road to do her marketing in town, if she does not want to do so? Supposing we passed a law here that ladies in Donnybrook and Terenure must foot it to town and bring their requirements from Grafton Street in a basket, there would be a revolution, a revolution led by the wives of Ministers and, on this side, by the wives of people sitting on the Front Opposition Benches, and I would not blame them.
I am submitting that this Bill is going to impose that obligation, in effect, on every country woman. If you do it it is going to be worth £1,000 a year to me. I am a shopkeeper in a country town, and you are going to drive these people into me. You are going to make them deal in my shop. That is true of every shop in every country town. It is going to be an advantage to country towns, but do you think it is an advantage that you are entitled to impose on country people? I do not think it is. If the country shopkeeper is to justify his existence he must afford the country people the services they want. If he is not prepared to give them that service, then he ought to go out of business. If I am not prepared to compete with the services given to the country people by country shopkeepers—and I ask you to bear in mind the difference between the country shopkeeper and the town shopkeeper, in the rural sense of these terms—and to deliver my goods to their doors, if they want them so delivered, then I ought to go out of business. The only justification for the existence of the shopkeeper is that he gives to his customers a service that they otherwise could not get. If you want by the law of this House to force a customer to conduct his business on the terms that shopkeepers want, then the shopkeeper has no reasonable justification for existence. He is not giving service; he is imposing obligations. Is it the will of this House that no country woman can have her goods delivered to her door? If it is, this Bill will do it. I do not think that reasonable. I do not think it the right thing to do without weighing up the merits of the issue. This House should make up its mind as to whether the people are to get the services they now enjoy. I put it to the Minister that the obligation devolves upon him of confirming what I am saying, and I think he will be obliged to confirm it, that the regulations he intends to make are going to put an end, in effect, to the travelling shop. Does the Minister think that a right thing to do in all the circumstances?
It is true that it is going to result in a substantial addition of profits to shopkeepers in country towns. Although I know that many of my friends will disagree with me, on mature reflection I do not believe that it is an advantage to make these additional profits available to shopkeepers, who after all, are employers of labour, and valuable citizens in their own way. Nevertheless, I do not believe the advantage of affording them additional profits outweigh the disadvantage of denying the country woman the same amenities that she had been enjoying, if she is prepared and desires to pay for them. My second reason is that this Bill was designed—I believe, in consultation with egglers, people who deal in eggs as opposed to those who produce eggs—to lift off the dealers' shoulders the responsibilities they ought to carry. I do not think any man in this State, or in any other community, is entitled to a living if he is not prepared to give the community in which he lives some service in exchange. The man who deals in eggs can make a good living out of it, if the trade is not spoiled by Government interference, but if he makes a good living out of it he ought to give the community he serves some return for the living he gets. My submission is that the eggler's function, the thing he is being paid to do, is to sort out the bad eggs from the good eggs, to collect the eggs in a proper condition and sell them on the markets that are available to him. It is his job to see that the eggs come forward for consumption in a proper condition. I know from experience, for I was for years in the egg trade myself, how difficult a job that is to do, but, unless they have that job to do, what are they being paid for? They are the persons who come in contact with the producer and, if they want to give a fair return for the profits they are going to earn, it is their job to see that the eggs they take from the producer and put into consumption are good eggs and eggs presented in a clean and proper condition.
This Act is designed to enable the eggler to take in a woman's basket of eggs, put a docket on top of it and leave them there and, if the inspector does not come in and grab the basket or the container into which he has put them with the woman's name upon them and go out and prosecute the woman, the eggler seems to be substantially free from responsibility. I think that is a mistake. There is a third snag here. I will not deal with that yet because it is a technical matter which will arise later. I submit that a very much better method of achieving the purpose we all have in view, that is, getting the eggs on to the British market in a proper condition, is to suspend very largely the attempt to inspect eggs down the country because the attempt to inspector eggs exhaustively in every registered egg dealer's store and in every producer's home is simply going to multiply inspectors and produce very little results. I, therefore, suggest that, instead of wasting money on inspectors, you should create in every port in the country from which eggs normally pass on their way to Great Britain, a bottle neck through which every egg, no matter what part of the country it came from, would have to pass. I would let the registered dealer send up to that bottle neck, which I would describe as the registered exporter, any eggs he wanted to try and export and, when they got there, I would open his package, I would go through it, and any egg in that package that was not fit for export I would dispose of it and give him nothing for it. He would be paid only for the good eggs which he submitted for export and nothing for the bad ones, nothing for the dirty ones, nothing for the stale ones, and let him go and arrange in his own district not to get dirty eggs, or stale eggs or bad eggs. That is his business and if he is an egg dealer and if he knows his job he ought to be able to provide against that. And he can provide against it. I know because I was in the trade. I handled eggs for years, and I know perfectly well that if the egg dealers of this country are satisfied that you cannot get a bad egg or a dirty egg or a stale egg out of the country and sell it they will stop buying them. There is no other way in which you will stop the export of unsatisfactory eggs, except by making the eggler do his job or by putting an inspector sitting down beside every hen in Ireland.
There is no half-way house between Rome and Babylon. You have got to have an inspector for every hen or the bottle neck at the port, and you are simply wasting money by sending inspectors cruising around the country trying to enforce a code of law as envisaged by this Act. It will not work. But if you set the other scheme on foot, if you make it clear that no eggler is going to get away with a bad egg, you are going to make out of every eggler in this country an inspector on his own and he is going to be a much better inspector than the inspector who works for the Govern ment because the eggler is going to be an inspector who is working for himself and no man works as well for a master as he works for himself. It will be in his own interest. Many of the Deputies in this House will say: "Had not we all this kind of regulation before and still the egglers bought the bad eggs." I want to tell you why—because they thought they could get away with it, and what happened was—there would be five shopkeepers in an area and they would all be looking for custom. A customer would stop the travelling shop of the first shopkeeper and she would give her command whatever it was, and when it came to paying for that order she would tender him a basket of eggs. He would say: "I cannot take these eggs; they are dirty." She would say: "Go on, I never sent for you. It was yourself stopped me." She would give him his parcel back and he would drive away. The next fellow came along and would say to himself: "I never got an order from that woman before." He would stop his car and canvass an order, and, to his amazement, would get the order, although he knew she was a customer of the man in the car that had gone ahead of him, and when she would tender him the same basket of dirty eggs he would say to himself: "If I do not take these I will never get an order from her again," and he would bring them home and wash them. Half of them would be stale eggs, and he would trust to God that out of the forty-two consignments that went down to the ship that day the inspector would not happen to light on his. If he did light on his consignment it was just too bad. He lost a case of eggs or a pound, but he prayed God that he would not light on them, that he would light on some other fellow's, and that, in the rush and bustle of getting the eggs shipped, his consignment would slip through, and seven times out of ten it did. The only way to stop that is to make the eggler consign his eggs to the export agent in Dublin and to tell him: "It does not matter whether you send ten eggs or ten million eggs, every one will be handled and examined and repacked, and every bad egg will be smashed, any trade egg will will be disposed of and you will get nothing for it. We do not give two fiddle-de-dees what you do. We are not interested in your activities down the country. Do what you please, but, if we get a dirty egg, a trade egg or a stale egg, you will not get paid for it, and if you want to sell your groceries and the rest of it for eggs that you are not going to get paid for yourself you will not last long, you will quickly disappear from the trade." That, at first, will have little effect, because they will think of the grand old days when you could slip them through, but then they will begin to discover that if they take a dirty egg or a stale egg it is money thrown away. The country shopkeepers of this country are no fools. They do not throw away sixpence without the hope of getting nine-pence, and they are not going to buy dirty, stale or bad eggs if they know they will not get paid for them. You will make out of every eggler in this country a far more effective inspector and an inspector who is going to every house in the country. You are going to turn these five shopkeepers who go around looking for trade into five inspectors, with this difference, that they are not the kind of inspector who are a plague and persecution to the country woman. They are her neighbours. She does not mind them coming to her house when she is not prepared for a visitor, and, mind you, a lot of Deputies in this House think that is nonsense. It is not nonsense. It is a disagreeable thing for a country woman, who is busy about the house, not suitably attired for visitors, to have strangers dropping in on her. She does not mind neighbours, who know her position. If you send five shopkeepers to that woman's house every morning to look at her eggs and say if they are dirty: "No, ma'am. I cannot take them. They are dirty. You will have to eat them yourself", she will begin to say to herself: "Something will have to be done about this. I will have to get them clean and see that they are fresh." In that way, and in that way only, will you make the eggs of this country what we want them to be.
There are two other difficulties, Sir. One is, and mind you this Bill makes no provision for it, strict prohibition against any registered dealer washing an egg. There is this difficulty, and I see the difficulty in my own plan just as it is in the Minister's plan; that is, if you are too draconian about prohibiting the egg dealer from washing an egg you may get the country women washing them themselves. I can wash an egg and do it very little harm. Many hundreds of eggs have I washed in my day, and may wash them again if the occasion arises, because I know how to do it; but a country woman's idea of washing an egg usually is to get water at a temperature which will melt the dirt, but unfortunately water which is at a temperature to melt the dirt will also boil the egg. You very frequently get a lot of eggs, where a country woman is trying to wash them, half boiled, so that I am not quite sure that we ought to be so severe about the washing of eggs, at least in the early stages, though I admit this difficulty, that if you permit the eggler to wash eggs, it is practically impossible to stop dirty eggs. I mention the difficulty, not for the purpose of condemning the Minister's scheme in that particular case; I am not altogether sure that he is not right; but hear in mind that if a man goes to a country woman's door and she learns by experience that she cannot sell a dirty egg, she washes the eggs. When a man goes later on to the same door and she hands out the basket of eggs it is not easy to recognise a washed egg unless you candle it. You cannot candle every egg on the side of the road. Some eggs you will see are washed without candling them, but you cannot be certain until you do candle them.
The Minister may ask himself how is the registered dealer to know whether an egg is washed or not. If he cannot know, might it not be wiser to reconsider the position in regard to that problem now? Of course, I agree that under this measure there is a provision that the inspector may come in and examine a basket of eggs having on it the indication of whether they came from. In the store they could examine them and candle them, and they would be able to tell whether any individual egg was washed. But I think he would find it hard to satisfy any court that an egg was washed and came from an individual producer if that producer appeared in the court and swore that she never washed an egg. I put it that, if the Minister would consider the plan which I have outlined, we can get somewhere, and after we get that we can deal with the quality of the egg we want produced.
The tragedy of the present position is that we are not producing any eggs at all, that the egg business is practically finished. The worst of it is that it is the thriftiest housekeeper who has gone out of eggs. Here again I am speaking from my own experience. I have known country women, the very best housewives in the country, coming to my window and asking the price of 1 cwt. of meal. When I tell their husbands the price, I have seen those women touching them on the shoulders, saying, "Do not bring it; I will choke them first before I pay that for it." And they did choke them; they went home and choked the hens, boiled them or got rid of them in some way, and they stopped selling eggs because they made up their minds that hens could not be made pay with the cost of feeding stuffs.
We have to bring down the cost of feeding stuffs and, having done that, we have to bring home to the minds of the country women that the price has been reduced and that it is now an economic proposition to feed fowl. The next thing to do is to get those people selling eggs early next year. Personally, I consider the destruction of the fowl population is so awful at present that I would be prepared to get them next year to sell any eggs they can lay hands on. Then in the year to come we can build up the fowl population in the country. The important thing is to get back the trade that we have thrown away to Denmark, and to do that we ought to be prepared to sell any kind of egg. Let us get people back to the habit of dealing with fowl and selling eggs, because they are getting out of that habit.
The money here voted can be effectively used to put the industry back on its feet, first, by virtually abandoning the attempt to inspect egg production from the hen all the way up, and to concentrate attention on the ports and effectively stop every unsatisfactory egg there; and, secondly, to reduce the cost of the industry and bring home to the minds of the people that it is the fixed intention of this House to see that the cost of egg production will never be allowed to rise unduly again. I believe that if we do that we will get somewhere; that if we do not do it, we will get nowhere, that we are going to waste a lot of money under this Bill and achieve nothing.
The Minister knows quite well that the egg exporters to date have done very little to deserve his gratitude. They have achieved very little indeed to help the egg industry or do anything of a co-operative nature in order to improve the attractions of the egg business for the country people. It is an immensely important industry to the whole of rural Ireland and it is one for the revival of which I am in a position to offer the Minister the whole-hearted co-operation of the Opposition in this House.