Committee on Finance. - Agricultural Produce (Eggs) (No. 2) Bill, 1938—Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:—

In page 13, lines 31-32, Section 23 (3 (i), to delete all words after the words and brackets "(outside Ireland)" to the end of the paragraph, line 35.

This amendment is designed to give people the right to speak their minds in public, because, in accordance with the terms of the Bill as it at present stands, if somebody says something which, in the opinion of the Minister, is prejudicial to the reputation of Irish eggs, he can take the licence away from them. I think that is an undesirable power to leave in the hands of the present Minister, or any other Minister, and I do not think it is a power that he requires. It is, in fact, an omnibus power put in there by a Department official who has launched a prosecution and has stubbed his toe against the obstacle that the section under which he sought to proceed was not wide enough to catch the person against whom his wrath was stirred. Well, Parliament did not intend that it should be wide enough for that purpose, and, if it did intend, it would have made it wide enough for that purpose. I object to any Minister seeking a general kind of power to go out on a hunting expendition after any citizen who offends him or who offends his sense of propriety. Bear in mind that this is not a penalty on somebody who says or does something which is prejudicial to the Irish egg, but this is a penalty on anybody who does something which is, in the opinion of the Minister, prejudicial to the reputation of Irish eggs. With great respect, Sir, that is carrying legislation far beyond where it has ever been carried before, and deprives, in my judgment, the citizens of this State of their constitutional rights. It is not good enough to have a man going into court and having his plea of justification stayed by the Minister for Agriculture of the day arising and saying: "In my opinion, this man has done wrong, and once that is my opinion, the processes of this court are void, because the statute says that it is my opinion that matters, not the judgment of the court." It is not the judgment of 12 reasonable men, not the judgment of any judicial tribunal envisaged by the Constitution, but the judgment of the Minister, and in pursuit of that judgment he can impose upon a man who exercises the right of free speech the penalty of withdrawing from him his means of livelihood which is perhaps one of the heaviest penalties which the law could impose. That is a departure to which I object, and to which I could be no party.

I, of course, would find it very difficult to argue against Deputy Dillon on the general proposition that it is undesirable that Ministers should have power as laid down here, but I find myself in a great difficulty in this particular case and I think if I were to explain the difficulty that may arise —and has arisen, as a matter of fact, in the past—that the Deputy would find it impossible to cover that in any other way. Our eggs are sometimes, in fact very often, I believe, exported in the name of the consigner and sometimes they are stored in England, say, in the exporter's store. They are still the property of the exporter in this country but not under our jurisdiction, and we have had cases in the past of eggs being stored for an unduly long time and brought out and sold as eggs —not as cold-stored eggs—but just as eggs, presumably fresh eggs, and in that way are injuring the reputation of Irish eggs to a very great extent. The Deputy knows, and other Deputies in this House who are intimate with the egg trade know, that we have the eggs stamped with different coloured inks and a person might export the eggs, say in August, when prices are rising, and after that store them beyond for three or four months, and sell them when the price is high. If we bring in code marking under this legislation, I admit we might be able to stop that particular type of case, but we are not sure whether we will be able to enforce the code marking.

I recognise the Minister's difficulties, and they are very great. Would the Minister delete the words: "which in the opinion of the Minister" and leave it to the court to decide whether, in fact, the defendant's action was prejudicial to the reputation of Irish eggs or not?

I would like to think about that for a moment. There is one thing that perhaps I might mention before I go on to that. Our biggest trouble is that our eggs may be stored in England, and brought out after a long time and not marked "cold stored." In Northern Ireland they must be marked "cold stored," but ours are not. The Deputy has made the suggestion to leave out the words "in the opinion of the Minister." I do not know if that would make very much difference. It would certainly look better in our legislation that the Minister should not have that power, but in any case I take it if I cancelled the registration, a person who thinks he has a grievance may bring me to court to show cause, and I do not know whether the fact that the words "in the opinion of the Minister" were there or not, would make very much difference in the court, that is, to the person that brings me there.

If they did not make much difference there could be no objection to taking them out.

That is where I have the doubt. I do not know what they imply. I must say, as I said in the beginning, that I agree entirely with what the Deputy says on general principles, that the ordinary citizen should be safeguarded against a Minister's arbitrary opinion and I must say that I had no intention whatever of using the section except in that particular case I have mentioned of compelling our exporters here, as far as we can, to market eggs on the other side as quickly as possible when they are outside our jurisdiction. We have no intention whatever—I am sure the Deputy recognises that—of saying to Deputy Dillon or some other person, "You made a speech a few days ago which has had a very bad effect on our eggs and, therefore, I am going to cancel your licence." It was not contemplated that we should use the powers in this section for that purpose, but I quite admit that the Deputy may say that I could use it in that way. Perhaps I could, but I feel I might have to justify my action in court afterwards if I did. I am not sure what the implications are, but perhaps I could do one of two things. I could omit it now, if the Ceann Comhairle would allow me, if there was general agreement, but on consideration I might be constrained perhaps to ask the Seanad to put it back again, in which case I would come back here, or alternatively I would consider very fully having it omitted in the Seanad.

I would prefer, Sir, if it is acceptable to the Minister, that he should omit the words now and if it is desired to introduce them he could do so by amendment in the Seanad. Would the Minister accept that?

I would, if the Ceann Comhairle would allow me.

Deputy Dillon's amendment would then read: "To delete the words ‘in the opinion of the Minister'."

That is correct.

And that amendment has been accepted by the Minister.

Amendment, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:—

In page 13, Section 23 (4) (b), lines 51 and 52 to delete the word "fortnight's".

As the section stands, I am compelled to give a fortnight's notice and only a fortnight's notice, to a person whose registration I intend to cancel. I think it might be desirable in some cases at least, to give more than a fortnight's notice. By omitting this word "fortnight's" from the section as it stands I would be compelled to give at least a fortnight, but I could give more. I think that every Deputy would agree that I should have the option of giving longer notice than a fortnight if I thought it was advisable.

There is only one thing for which I shall have to ask your indulgence, Sir. There was a slight oversight here. I should like the same amendment to be made in line 57 of paragraph 3—that the word "fortnight's " be deleted.

That would be page 13, Section 23 (4), lines 51, 52 and 57—to delete the word "fortnight's".

Line 57 would be sub-section 4 (d).

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:—

In page 16, after Section 26 (7), to insert a new sub-section as follows:—

(8) References in this Act (other than this section) to a register kept under this Act or to a register kept in pursuance of this Act shall not include any register kept in pursuance of this section.

In this section we are speaking of registers kept by people in the trade, and we do not intend, of course, under this Act to extract copies from the registers for publication, or to be compelled to give copies of the registers and so on to anybody who might require them. It is to make quite clear that registers kept by people in the trade are not open to the inspection, and so on, of the public, as registers kept by the Minister, that this amendment is put in.

Amendment agreed to.

With regard to amendment No. 4, in the name of Deputy Dillon, does the Deputy say that he considers his amendment has been met by the Minister's amendment —No. 5?

Amendment No. 4 not moved.

I move amendment No. 5:—

In page 16, Section 27 (1) (e), lines 31 and 32, to delete the words "as the inspector may deem", and substitute the words "in relation to any eggs or package of eggs found by him on such premises as may be reasonably".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:—

In page 20, line 7, Section 32 (6), to delete the word "notify" and substitute the words "communicate the fact of such taking to", and in line 10, to delete the words "that such sample or package was so taken" and substitute the words "and also, where such taking occurred on the premises of a carrier or warehouseman, to such carrier or warehouseman".

This section, in sub-section (5) and (6), deals with the taking of packages for examination. We are bound, under this sub-section, to notify the consignor or consignee, but we are not bound, if we take a package in transit, to notify the carrying company. This amendment puts the obligation on the Minister to notify the carrying company also in case a package is taken in transit.

Amendment agreed to.
Question—"That the Bill, as amended, be received for final consideration"—agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

On the Fifth Stage, I do not want to repeat the arguments that were put forward on the Second Stage. In my view, this is the wrong way to do the job and I feel sure that eventually the Minister will be forced to my way of doing the job. In the meantime, however, the Minister and I, and all of us, have a common interest, and that is to increase the output of eggs. The maize-meal mixture scheme, of course, is a long-forgotten issue and we may take it that it is over between us. The only question now is when that scheme is to be wound up. Apart from that, I do seriously put it to the Minister that, if we are going to make a drive to get the people back into egg production in the coming year, which I think is a matter of considerable consequence, it would materially help if the price of maize meal came down on the 1st of the New Year. If we want to get people back into egg production next year we shall have to increase the production of fowl, and the only way to increase the number of egg-laying fowl next year is to persuade the people to set eggs in February. If they do not set them until April, the hens will not lay next year; they will not lay till the following year.

Now, a lot of people may say to themselves that the setting of eggs under hens does not matter very much. That is quite wrong. I think that people will find that all this business of battery brooders and intensive chicken production which has been going on in England for so long is going to be discarded as unsound and as very injurious, in the long run, to the egg production business. I believe that, as a permanent, normal practice, in the egg and fowl industry in this country, we should base the production of chickens and fowl on the hatching hen and on the small hatching unit in the individual farmer's house, and that we should discourage, if possible, the British mass production methods because they reduce stamina, promote disease, and create ultimately a far greater problem than the problem of scarcity with which we have to contend. However, that is a matter which, I think, might possibly arise more opportunely on the Agricultural Estimate. The only point I want to tackle now, is the immediate problem, and that problem is to increase the output at once. To do that, we have to have publicity and put up an attractive proposition, and the most attractive proposition you can put up now is that eggs will pay. Now, there has been the deuce of a lot of talk going on about "Wheat Will Pay," which, I think, will rather injure that slogan. A lot of people who accepted that slogan at its face value have been bitterly disillusioned. However, I think we may assume that very few of the people who grow wheat are the kind of people who are going to be induced to grow chickens and go in for egg production, because that ought to be primarily the purpose of the congested areas. Therefore, I would ask the Minister now to launch an intensive publicity campaign to persuade the people to get back into fowl, and I believe it would have really valuable results if the cost of feeding were reduced.

I am going to say now something that, at first glance, would appear to be a direct contradiction of what I have said already. There are two aspects of this, or two separate problems. One is what I might call the long-term problem, and the other is the short-term problem. Taking the long-term view, I am altogether opposed to mass production, but from the point of view of the short-term problem—that is, the business of getting back into the industry at once— I think the Minister should investigate the possibility of supplementing the number of hens of the farmers' wives who set in February by a large number of day-old chicks for February and March—only for this year. If that were done we should get back a substantial measure of production next autumn, and once we get back into the business, as we all know, it is very easy to expand the fowl population very rapidly.

I, therefore, ask the Minister to wind up the maize-meal mixture scheme as on the 1st January, tell the people that feeding stuffs will be back as cheap as ever they were, or as ever they can be, tell them that on the 1st January the Department are prepared to receive applications from anybody who wants to get back into the egg-production business, and that, in so far as they can, they will supply day-old chicks which will lay eggs this autumn and that they will encourage all and sundry to set eggs at the earliest possible moment, and produce the maximum number of fowl in the certain knowledge that if anything pays eggs will pay to export; lastly, that the Minister should apply at once to the Department of Finance for authority to extend the Gaeltacht scheme of loans for hen houses to all farmers in the country who wish to avail of it. It is not an uneconomic scheme. It is a scheme that will pay for itself. The people borrow the money, erect the hen houses and pay the money back. It is merely the provision of credit. I urge very strongly on the Minister to press forward with that scheme at once. I gathered from him that he himself approved of such a scheme, and thought that perhaps he had power to put it into operation. Well, if he has, the people do not know about it, and he should give it the widest possible publicity. If he will do those things we will at least get back into egg production. Then, when we have the eggs, and see the impact of this Act, as it then will be upon the eggs we have for sale in the British market, we can at leisure make up our minds whether the system I advocated for the control of the egg business or the system enshrined in the Bill is the better to secure the largest return for the producers of eggs in this country.

On this Bill, I should like to bring before the Minister the necessity for the building of houses for the purpose of housing fowl, as the present accommodation in the country is very poor. I think that a reasonable sum should be allotted to each county, to go to the county committees of agriculture and be given out to the farmers as small grants. I would not say grants of £5; I would say grants of £2 or £2 10s. 0d. That is one of the ways of improving the production of eggs. The second method I would suggest is that there should be something in the nature of classes in the different areas to instruct the people in the necessity for producing more eggs in winter time. Egg production in this country seems to disappear altogether in winter time, and I believe that that disappearance is due to inadequate housing accommodation. There is another thing which seems to be increasing in the country, and that is the second-quality egg. It ought to be going out, but instead of that it is increasing. I believe that is due to the lack of proper housing accommodation, proper food, and matters of that kind, which can be explained to the people at those meetings in the different districts. As everybody knows, the second-quality egg can be of different varieties; it can be weak, it can be watery, or it can be fertile. That is a problem which ought to be tackled. As far as cleanliness is concerned, I am satisfied that the people are doing their best to market the egg in as clean a condition as they possibly can, but the Minister must bear in mind that without proper housing accommodation it is almost impossible to have a clean egg. In the absence of that accommodation the people have to pick up the eggs in the ordinary way two or three times a day. I do not say they have to wash them, but in the case of a large number of eggs they have to clean them. They have got instructions from the licensed shippers that they must not wash the eggs; that they must clean them with a damp cloth immediately they are picked up. That is the reason I submit to the Minister that if proper housing accommodation were available for the producers of eggs it would encourage production, and you would have clean eggs of a better quality.

I agree that if the Minister and his Department are anxious to increase egg and poultry production in this country, they must tackle the problem of housing accommodation. The Government are spending money on schemes like tourist development and that kind of thing. That may be useful, but the possibility of immediate expansion is not very great. I believe that if you put some money into this industry it would produce an immediate return. The Bill is all very well in itself, but to my mind the real problem as far as the production of eggs is concerned is the type of poultry house you have in the country. The type of house that there is in the country at the moment is not the type out of which you are going to get clean eggs. Very few poultry keepers, especially the small ones, have proper poultry houses. They have no nests set away from the house, as you must have in order to secure clean eggs. I am perfectly satisfied that if the small poultry keepers in the country are going to continue with the type of house which is generally to be seen at the moment, you are not going to have clean eggs produced. Some attempt may be made to clean them with a cloth, but I think we all agree that that seriously affects the quality of the egg. I have no doubt that if we want clean eggs we must have proper housing accommodation for the poultry, and a proper lay-out in the house—in other words, a modern fowl house. I think if the Minister could see his way to spend any money on a scheme of producing proper housing accommodation for poultry, the money would be well spent and produce immediate return. There are tremendous possibilities in this industry if about £250,000 were put into it. It may seem a very big sum, but there is no doubt about it this industry could be expanded to the tune of £3,000,000 or £4,000,000. Unless the Minister and his Department are prepared to do something more, this Bill in itself will not produce any great results. You may secure cleaner eggs, but I do not think the Bill in itself is going to expand the industry. I think the Minister ought to make some effort to provide sums of money to encourage people to erect poultry houses. I think that is essential if we are to look forward with confidence to any expansion at all in this industry. On the basis of the Bill, by itself, I am afraid we can anticipate no expansion, or very little at all events.

I just want to say a single word on this matter. I am in entire agreement with what has been said as far as housing is concerned. I also would like, in regard to that question, if the Department would carry out a certain number of investigations to see how far the heating of poultry houses in the winter, which may now be done comparatively cheaply, would be a paying proposition, because I think it is pretty well known that hens will not lay in very cold weather. I wonder very much as to whether those radiators which one sees for sale, and which guarantee to heat a house or quite a large area at a penny or a halfpenny an hour, might not add considerably to the laying productivity of the hen. There is another great danger to the fowl industry, especially in my part of the country, which I think will have to be tackled before the industry becomes a complete success, and that is vermin. I happen to be the owner of a certain number of hens, and I find that there are three great enemies. Number one is the fox —my part of the country is completely overrun by foxes—number two is the magpie, and number three is the hawk. Certainly in parts of the country where the magpie, the hawk, and especially the fox are numerous, it is very difficult to make hen production or egg production a success.

I would not care to go into the very wide question which the Deputy raised in the beginning, that is, the merits of the artificial raising of chickens. There is probably something in what the Deputy says, that the intensive methods used by the big breeders, encourage disease more than the older method of the hen rearing her own chickens. I do agree with the Deputy, however, that I would much prefer to see an expansion of the poultry industry on the lines of every farmer doing a little more rather than by having poultry farms. Of course, we could have poultry farms, and nobody will object to that, but I would very much prefer to see every farmer doing a little more. With regard to the short-term view that Deputy Dillon referred to of trying to raise stock by making day-old chicks available, we have been doing that on a small scale and shall continue to do it. I do not think, indeed, it met with any great success, but it is worth trying for a few years to see how it may turn out. The maize-meal mixture scheme, I am afraid, cannot be adapted as quickly as Deputies would like. I only hope there will not be greater disappointment than there is. I think the Deputy was told, perhaps by a maize miller, during the last four or five years that the reason the mixture was dear was because they had to put barely meal into it. If he goes back to the miller now and asks if there will be a big reduction he will probably be told that there will be none.

None, if you do not allow in the Belfast meal. If you let the Belfast meal in there will be.

Not very much. I saw some invoices recently received by buyers here, which included a price quoted from Northern Ireland, and there was not a big difference. There was some difference. With regard to loans for housing, I have got financial sanction, which is the principal thing, and which was the big difficulty, and I hope to be able to produce a scheme in the near future. I do not think we could make grants as advocated by Deputy Browne. Loans would be better. If the loans are not big, with added interest, say for three years, they will not be a very big burden. If housing is difficult we should be able to solve it to some extent in this way.

Half the amount by way of grant will be more readily availed of than the full amount by way of loan.

I know that. With regard to the classes advocated by Deputy Browne, the poultry instructresses in each county are only too willing to give classes anywhere they are arranged for by the county committees of agriculture. I do not know if it can be claimed that dirty eggs were altogether caused by bad housing. A thrifty poultry keeper, even if she has to put up with bad housing, is able to manage to have clean eggs by using straw, and seeing to it that the hens, as it were, wiped their feet before they leave the nests. On the other hands, the unthrifty poultry keeper, no matter how good the housing, will not produce clean eggs. The provision of houses may be a help in other ways. I am glad to say that we are on the upgrade in egg production, and I hope we will be able to do much better. There has been an advance this year, and the price of eggs has been better right through. At present the price is better than the corresponding weeks of last year. At times the price was considerably better. That may encourage poultry keepers to go ahead and produce more. I have no experience concerning the point raised by Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney. I have seen the advertisements to which he referred, and one would be almost induced by these advertisements to buy some of the heaters straight away.

That is why I asked about them.

I will have some inquiries made in that direction to see what can be done. With regard to the vermin to which Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney referred, the county committees have power to deal with foxes, hawks and magpies, and to try to have them eliminated as best they can, by having some sort of prize scheme. I think we will leave it to county committees to deal with these pests. Finally, I can only say that I think there will be good results from the working of this Bill when it becomes an Act, because I believe the first essential is to get good eggs. If we could get good eggs, and if the eggs are reliable, both at home and abroad, we should get a better comparative price. If we get a better price increased production will naturally follow. That is the best way to increase production.

There is no doubt whatever that we are learning by experience that hens do consume a great deal more oats than we through during the operation of the maize-meal mixture scheme, because as the hen population declined, we found that the maize-meal mixture scheme did not increase the area under oats. I put it to the Minister that we should urge the people to use oats for hens. We are after a bad harvest, and as there is no doubt whatever that the yield of barley and oats this year is comparatively low, there is not going to be any serious problem of cereals. Here is one scheme about which we could all co-operate if all sides got behind some popular cry by the 1st January urging people to keep fowl. Would it not be a good example of co-operation, just to see how we could work, to have all sides urging the one thing? While the Minister could continue to urge them to grow wheat I could contend that that was all cod, but we could find common ground on the question of eggs. Would it not be interesting to see what would happen? I put it to the Minister that there is not the slightest danger of a deluge of cereals this year. As there is a scarcity of cereals an increased fowl population would use the oats and barley now available. If there was danger of a deluge of cereals, and if it created a problem, the Minister could look for money to take over the cereals on hands, so as to protect those who have them, and no one would object.

Does the Department insist on blood testing of stock at poultry stations? The mortality in chicks in some cases is very high. It is essential that all eggs from poultry stations should be tested. If it is not insisted on at present it should be.

There may be something in what the Deputy says. So far we have insisted only when stock birds are imported. We have not insisted where stock birds are purchased from poultry stations inside the country.

I think you should insist on testing at the stations.

We may go further. As to Deputy Dillon's suggestion, whatever views we may have with regard to the maize-mixture scheme we cannot possibly allow farmers with oats and barley on hands this year to be let down. They grew oats and barley under the impression that there would be a maize-meal mixture scheme, and that there would be a guaranteed market, which would take the crops off their hands. We must continue, therefore, for this cereal year to get all the oats and barley off their hands. I do not know how long it will take to use up these crops, but we must see that farmers get rid of them if they want to sell. If we had them off the farmers' hands, and with the merchants, we would have to see how long this scheme must go on, whether up to August or not.

Will the Minister consider dealing with another point raised by Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney? There is an old maxim regarding the shooting of pheasants: "up goes a sovereign, off goes a penny, and down comes two-and-sixpence." The increase in vermin is due to the fact that cartridges are so dear. They cost more than 2d. each. Magpies, crows and foxes have increased, because cartridges are dearer than in pre-war days.

Some county committees are giving premiums and bounties for the destruction of foxes.

The great difficulty is the price of cartridges, and the quality also is not as good. I am prepared to say that they are better now than they were some years ago.

They are good enough to shoot magpies.

Question:—"That the Bill do now pass"—put and agreed to.