I understand, Sir, that there is a Financial Resolution to be dealt with.
Creameries (Acquisition) Bill, 1943—Second Stage.
No; this is a Money Resolution, which is to be taken before the Committee Stage. This is only the Second Stage.
It used to be taken before the Committee Stage, in my recollection.
Yes, that is so. This is a Money Resolution. It is not the same thing as a Financial Resolution.
I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. Sixteen years ago, almost to the exact date, a Bill was brought in here to deal with the reorganisation of the creamery industry. The position then was that there was intense competition between the proprietary and the co-operative creameries and the result of that competition was that, in many cases, the prices paid were so high that it led to insolvency. It meant that a number of the co-operative creameries went down, or were on the way to going down. The scheme that was then introduced had for its object the taking over of a number of these people, and that scheme has been continued up to the present time. In the beginning, it meant the taking over of the proprietary concerns, and the intention was to take them over by a holding body, which has since become known as the Dairy Disposals Board. As time went on, however, the Dairy Disposals Board was forced into the position of taking over also certain co-operative societies that had been doing badly, reorganising the particular district concerned and, in some cases, doing away with these societies altogether.
Then as time went on further, the Dairy Disposals Board went into the business of developing new districts, and they have done quite well in most cases. They have done very well in such counties as Clare, Kerry, and the western portion of Cork. I think that the success of these co-operative creameries must be apparent to everybody, to the extent, at least, that practically all the co-operative creameries in the country are in a good position financially. So far as I can see, there are very few such creameries that are in a bad financial position.
Now, that reorganisation was very well timed, because, two or three years afterwards—in or about 1930—the big decline began, and that lasted until the beginning of the present war, in 1939, and if, by any chance, the old position had remained in which the proprietary people and the co-operative creameries were competing against one another, and paying more than an economic price, the result undoubtedly would have been that many of these societies would have to close down. Much of this work has been done by voluntary effort, but, as a result of arrangements made by the Dairy Disposals Board, about 182 private concerns have been taken over by the board during the last 16 years. I might mention that about 114 of these premises were owned by one firm or individual. It is felt that the first stage of this reorganisation must be completed some time, and I feel that it should be done now. After all, there is always the danger of a "milk war" such as we had in 1937, and such as, in fact, we had two or three years ago in West Cork, between the proprietary owners and the co-operatives. It is not my intention now to say whose was the fault there.
Could the Minister say whose fault it was?
I am not in a position to say that, but the situation is that trouble of that kind could happen again. I understand that there is a feeling in West Cork, amongst the farmers there, that they should have co-operative creameries, but there is a fear there, in the case of the co-operative creameries, that another "milk war" might start, and they are not prepared to risk the necessary capital expenditure. Again, there are certain co-operative creameries in West Cork which can hardly be said to be in an economic position at the moment, but which could be made economic, and, therefore, it is necessary to take over the proprietary interests in order to make the others economic.
We are not doing anything original in this legislation, because in most countries, particularly when it comes to a matter of dealing with co-operative enterprise in agriculture, the general principle that is followed is that where a big majority of the people go in for such activities, then the minority is compelled to go along with the majority. In this particular case here, we are dealing with a very small minority. In other words, I should say that the amount of milk left, as compared with the amount going to the creameries in general, would be only about 3 per cent. or 4 per cent.
How does the Minister determine that?
What I am saying is that the percentage of milk, apart from the amount going to the creameries, would be very small. This Bill confers powers on me, in consultation with the Minister for Finance, to compel the proprietors of milk concerns to sell to the Dairy Disposals Board. Now, there are two ways in which that can be done. In the first place, there is the question of the acquisition of the premises, or the sale of superior interests in the acquired leasehold premises, and then there is the question of an appeal to an arbitrator, and then the business will be sold at the price fixed by the arbitrator.
The next point that will occur to any Deputy is: what will the Dairy Disposals Board do with those concerns when they take them over? As far as my information goes, most of them will be closed, because they are redundant where they stand at the moment, and the milk supply will then be sold to a co-operative concern. Some will remain open and will be transferred to a co-operative society. In that connection, I may say that we have, for the moment, to regard any unit at present worked by the Dairy Disposals Board as a co-operative concern, the idea being that they are held in trust for a co-operative society. There will be some loss to the State— that is what is referred to in the Estimates for this purpose as a subsidy. Take an individual unit which has a supply of, say, 1,300 or 1,400 gallons. In that case, we have to buy the premises, the goodwill, the supply and so on. The supply, of course, is included in the goodwill. We only sell, perhaps, the supply to some neighbouring creamery, and the premises are left on the hands of the Dairy Disposals Board. The Dairy Disposals Board cannot sell those premises for a creamery. They can only sell them for another purpose, and will probably have to sell them cheaply, so there will be a difference between the price they will pay and the price for which they will sell. We must refer to that, for the moment, as the subsidy which is necessary. Unfortunately, I cannot give any estimate as to what that subsidy is going to be, because I cannot at this stage, naturally, say what price the arbitrator is going to fix, but I do not think the amount of the subsidy will be very extraordinary as compared with previous deals of this kind. We will again come to the question of subsidies in general paid by the Dairy Disposals Board.
The next question that might be asked is: will this finish all this undesirable competition between one unit and another? Not in itself. There has, of course, been very little trouble during recent years as between one co-operative and another. There is nothing in law to stop them at the moment, but there are various ways of reasoning with them, which are effective in stopping any competition just now. We must, however, follow up some time or other—as soon as possible I should say, too—with a Co-operative Bill, which has been in preparation for many years. That will definitely stop any competition between one co-operative and another, because it will define the area of influence of the various co-operatives.
The next point that might be raised is whether the Dairy Disposals Board are competent to carry out this business, competent to take over, first of all and, secondly, competent to run any of those concerns that they might hold for a period. I might say there again there will be a necessity for legislation. The Dairy Disposals Board grew up rather a victim of circumstances. It is a very different body now from what was visualised back in 1927. At that time, it was thought that it would only be a holding body which would hold creameries for a very short time before reorganising and handing them back to the co-operatives. But in the light of experience it was felt that they would need to hold some of those units for long periods. Then, of course, they had the additional duty cast upon them to develop new districts, where they will necessarily have to hold on and work those new creameries for quite a long time, so it will be necessary to regularise the Dairy Disposals Board. There are, as a matter of fact, several entities worked by the Board at the moment. There is the Newmarket Dairy Company, which was the first big group of creameries taken over in the County Cork in 1927, and still worked as the Newmarket Dairy Company. Then there was the Condensed Milk Company, which comprised a condensory in Limerick, a condensory in Drumkean, and two creameries, Tipperary and Knocklong. Then there was the Toffee Factory in Limerick, which was a separate entity. In addition the Dairy Disposals Board works those new creameries that have been organised in the new districts, so you really have four bodies operating, but all run by the same men and by the same staff. It will be necessary to do something legally as soon as possible to get that matter right.
At that stage it may be possible to give more details of the working of the Dairy Disposals Board than I am in a position to give now. I will, however, try to give an idea of the finances of the Dairy Disposals Board since it commenced operations in 1927. Those figures include the four companies I referred to, because I do not want to segregate the figures for any one of the four companies. The total amount of capital voted by the Dáil since 1927 is £1,172,000. There are certain items that we must deduct from that as being probably irrecoverable.
Would the Minister say whether interest has been charged on that?
I will come to that point. Interest has not been paid to the State, if that is what the Deputy wants to know. There was compensation paid to redundant staffs, which it was felt here in 1927, I believe, when the thing was going through, should be made a State charge. The total of that to date is £53,000. In every deal that is undertaken, the Dairy Disposals Board give an estimate to my Department. The estimate is made out as follows: "We estimate that we can buy this concern at so-and-so. We estimate that we can resell it to a co-operative at so-and-so." The difference—a stated figure—we put down as subsidy. The total amount of subsidy estimated on that basis since the Dairy Disposals Board started operations was £214,000, but they have utilised only £90,000 subsidy so far. They have repaid to the State £236,000 of the capital. Every year there is an appropriation. Deputies are familiar—we were very much more familiar with it some years ago—with the £3 per cow. That money was collected by the board and handed over to the Department of Finance as an appropriation. That is the big item in this £236,000. We have, therefore, the three sums there, that is, the amount paid to redundant employees, the amount utilised for subsidy—£90,000—and the amount repaid by way of capital, £236,000.
If we deduct these three figures from the total of £1,172,000, we have about £800,000 left. At the moment the company is indebted to the State to the extent of about £800,000, with or without interest, as the case may be. I suppose, in all fairness, they should pay interest on that money, too.
Will the Minister say if, in the figure of £236,000, there are included any sums realised for creameries that were disposed of to co-operative societies?
I shall take a note of that point and will deal with it later.
On the face of it, whatever was realised for the disposal of creameries must be included in that figure.
I will deal with that position at a later stage. I should like to be clear in my own mind as to whether the sums realised for the sale of creameries are included in that figure. I am quite sure that not all are included, but there may be some, and I should like to be clear on that point. The valuation of all the properties held by the Dairy Disposals Board, after the usual allowances for depreciation and income-tax and the other things that we see in balance sheets, on the 31st December, 1941, was £782,000. That is not very far from the figure I mentioned—£800,000. The trading profit and loss has been kept in a separate account and, although there is a fairly substantial amount standing to profit at the moment, it has not been included in the assets. The trading loss in the beginning was high. That was to be expected, because, when the Dairy Disposals Board took over a number of those units and had to work them, they were very uneconomic and it took some time to get them into an economic state. They had a poor experience so far as ordinary trading went.
When I came into office I was asked by the Department of Finance to try to regularise the position. I introduced an estimate in 1933 for £112,000, as against trading losses by the Dairy Disposals Board. The trading losses went on increasing and, by the end of 1933, the amount had reached £137,000. Of course, that included the £112,000. Then the tide turned for the better and, in the balance sheet issued on 31st December, 1941, the loss of £137,000 had been converted into a profit of £51,000. The years from 1933 to 1941 were extremely good. I assume the profit is even higher now.
In estimating the profits, how is the fact that interest has not been paid taken into account?
That is a point that has not been settled.
Then we do not know whether there was a real profit.
If they had paid the interest every year, I take it there would be a loss. A lot would depend on the interest charged. I feel, with the trend of events in the Dairy Disposals Board, that they will be in a position not only to meet the entire amount of capital advanced by the State, but that they will be able to pay some interest also. I do not know whether they will be able to pay the ordinary bank interest of 5 per cent., but they should be able to pay some interest. There is a very big investigation going on, both by my Department and the Department of Finance, which will be able to elucidate the financial working of the Dairy Disposals Board before we have the Bill ready. The Bill will regularise the whole position of the Dairy Disposals Board and, when it is being considered, it might be possible to give more detailed figures with regard to the working of the board. This Bill will enable the Minister for Agriculture, in consultation with the Minister for Finance, to require any proprietor to sell his business to the Dairy Disposals Board. The Bill, though it may be comprehensive and far-reaching, is a very simple one, and I do not think it will tax the intelligence of any Deputy fully to understand its meaning.
I listened with interest to the Minister's description of this concern. Possibly other Deputies will be able to say a lot on the farming side, but I will approach this matter from the business point of view. I call this a concern for the want of knowing what it really should be called. It does not seem to be a trading company, and it does not seem to be a company under the auspices of the Government; it just seems to be a Dairy Disposals Board that, as the Minister says, was established to meet a state of emergency and was not transferred when the Government found it was necessary to carry it on more or less permanently.
I should like, first of all, to complain about the absence of accounts. We never see their accounts—the Minister can correct me if I am wrong here; he has not got their accounts to the end of 1942. I cannot conceive a commercial concern, a public company, not having its accounts prepared by the 31st December. The floating stock of the Dairy Disposals Board could be ascertained at least in a few days. I might suggest to the Minister that the Dairy Disposals Board is, like the Government, suffering from paralysis.
The Minister said that, originally, the company was run on a capital expenditure of £1,172,000 which had been reduced to £800,000, and that it does not pay interest on that money. That is not sufficient for me. I would like to know who is standing the loss of that £800,000? You cannot get money for nothing. That sum would probably earn 4 per cent.
Therefore, there must be about £32,000 a year being hidden away somewhere in the Government accounts. The Minister and the Government should be honest, and put the saddle on the right horse. The profit and loss account and the capital expenditure account are, apparently, being kept in watertight compartments. I think I am right in saying that if a trading concern at one period had a loss of £137,000 it would have to add that to its capital. Therefore, the loss in this case ought to have appeared as a loss of £937,000. That loss, the Minister has told us, has very fortunately been converted into a trading profit of, I think he said, £57,000, which ought to be deducted from the capital account. There ought to be only one capital account.
I am not going to quarrel at this stage with the principle of acquiring creameries. It is elementary that, when the Minister does so, he has to sell the premises at a loss. He may get something for the goodwill. Will he tell me what this £800,000 is estimated to produce? Is the plain naked fact this: that that figure is hiding an enormous loss, and that one of these days we will wake up and be told that the Dairy Disposals Board has been wound up—its losses running to about £500,000? I suggest to the Minister that he ought to be honest with himself and with the House. There is no use in making two bites at a cherry. A concern such as this ought to publish a balance sheet to be presented to this House. If we have only a limited control of the finances of it, if there are some of its finances that we control and others that we do not, then I want to suggest, in regard to that portion of its finances that we do not control, that our proceedings here are a farce. Again, I ask why does the Minister want to make two bites at a cherry. We had an expression of opinion to the effect that there were certain details in connection with this business that could not be revealed. I say that is nonsense. If an accountant, an auctioneer or somebody skilled in the valuation of property and assets makes a valuation, the Minister ought to be able to present it to the House, so that we may know what the exact position is, just in the same way as a trading concern has to publish its accounts, whether it makes a profit or a loss. Imagine any trading concern taking up the attitude that because it had a bad year it was not going to publish its accounts fearing that if it did so the report would have a deplorable effect on the shareholders of the concern and on the investing public. No trading concern would do that. Why should the Government be immune from criticism for keeping their accounts in a more sloppy fashion than a trading concern would be allowed to do?
Section 5 makes provision for "deductions in respect of State debts from price payable under sale orders or sale (superior interest) orders". Is the broad effect of that this: that the Dairy Disposals Board is going to rank as a preferential creditor just as if it had a mortgage, and that ordinary creditors will have to take their place behind the board? I hope the Minister will deal with that point when replying, because it is a thing that I strongly object to. Here is a concern, under the auspices of the Government, which publishes no balance sheet, and it is put in the position of having a mortgage on the assets of a company once it says that it is going to take it over. There is one last point that I want to put to the Minister. It is only rumour—I cannot say that I know of this of my own knowledge—that some farmers are more anxious to take over some of these concerns as co-operative creameries than the Dairy Disposals Board is to get rid of them. If that is so, it explains why this concern has gone on so long and why it will continue to go on much longer.
Instead of discussing this particular Bill in a positive way, my purpose in rising is to put a number of questions to the Minister. First of all, I should like to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the very useful work done, in many instances, by the Dairy Disposals Board, especially in the matter of the opening up of new districts. I do not think there will be anything but a generous recognition of the work that has been done in that particular respect.
On the financial matters raised by Deputy Dockrell, giving my own personal view, I think it was necessary that the State should have shouldered a loss at the time when this particular policy was inaugurated, and for a number of years afterwards and, perhaps, it is unavoidable even at the present moment. However, I agree with Deputy Dockrell that, if it does shoulder a loss, there should be no doubt and no ambiguity as to what the loss is. Therein I agree with some of the criticisms that Deputy Dockrell has levelled, in regard to the general failure to give information in this particular respect.
Even after the Minister's speech and the replies he gave to one or two interruptions by way of questions put to him during it, no one can say whether at the present moment this company is making a profit or being run at a loss—that is, if you take into account what any other company in the country or any individual who runs a business would have to take into account, namely, the interest charge on the money.
I understand that it is exceedingly difficult to get anything like a detailed statement—various bodies have tried to get one—of the finances of this particular body. If to keep dairying alive, it is necessary that the State should suffer a loss, I have no objection, but the public should be told what the loss is. As the Minister pointed out, it was inevitable, when this policy was being inaugurated and introduced into the country, that a loss should be incurred. It may still be necessary, and more than once recently I have said that if, to help the dairying industry and keep it alive, it is necessary that a State subsidy should be given, then it should be given. But the Minister should agree that it is not unreasonable to ask for a clear statement as to what those subsidies are. For instance, I gather that at the present time it is impossible to make any definite statement about the financial position as a whole—which should be a simple thing to do—or about any particular concern.
In this particular Bill, the company is entitled to look into the balance sheet, the profit and loss account, the trading accounts and the capital— practically everything—concerning an undertaking that it intends to take over, but there is no suggestion that any information can be vouchsafed of the trading business of the company itself that is taking over. It is exempt from any such inquiry and practically no information will be given. That leaves the people unable to judge whether this company is being well run or not well run. The company has recently done a lot of good work in opening new districts. That will cost money to the State. It is quite right not to hesitate in developing these new districts, but there should be an effort to show what precisely the cost is.
There is one thing on which I would like the Minister to enlighten the House. He intends to use compulsory powers in order to enter into possession of and make the property of the Dairy Disposals Company, a certain number of existing private institutions. He has given the reason for that. On the whole, they are very few now and the purpose is a twofold one. To prevent a possible uneconomic "milk war" in a certain district is the more immediate purpose. I gather that the formal view of the Dairy Disposals Board is to regard itself as trustee of that property, with the other property it possesses at the moment, to regard itself as a trustee for the farmers. I take it for granted, therefore, that it is still the declared policy of the company to transfer these creameries to co-operative societies; but the Minister need not be surprised if people are a little doubtful as to whether, in our lifetime, that policy is likely to become operative. A good number of creameries were transferred at one time but, in reply to a question by my colleague, Deputy Hughes, in June, 1942, the Minister said that, apart from small individual units sold to existing societies, no transfers have been made in recent years. At that time there was under consideration one large concern, but it is quite obvious that what was always looked upon as one of the primary purposes and one of the aims of this whole experiment has been slowed up. The Minister must know that there are some societies willing to take over and they get very little encouragement. There may be one or even two cases in recent times to point a little in the opposite direction. In fact, new conditions that were not thought of at the beginning are now demanded. Perhaps the Minister would tell us precisely the relationship between himself and the Dairy Disposals Board.
I am the only shareholder.
I thought he had considerable control over the policy and the details of policy.
Oh, no; not in practice, anyway.
Then it is amazing that, even in the smallest details, the Dairy Disposals Board manages to anticipate the desires of the Minister, or what might be the desires of the Minister. They know not only how the cat is going to jump but very often how it is going to jump before the cat itself knows it. They are intelligent in that particular way. To call this company a Dairy Disposals Board would be a misnomer as, for a number of years past, it has been a Dairy Acquisition Board, having shown a pronounced tendency to acquire rather than to dispose. It is quite obvious, from the Minister's answer last June, that whether it is his deliberate policy or not the reluctance to part with any of the property has grown with the improving years. I am not asking what the theory is, as I know the theory is still: "We are anxious to dispose of these creameries to the farmers." But I assert that the practice is something very different.
Though I have, and always have had, a great deal of admiration for the Civil Service in its own particular sphere, I confess that I do not like the continual and inevitable grasping habit. I am not blaming the individuals: it is inherent in the institution and that is why I am referring to it. The individuals carry out their work well. I am speaking of the Civil Service as a whole, as an institution: there is a tendency to grasp more power and, in this case, it means to grasp more business and, having got it, not to let it go.
I do not want the Minister to come along afterwards when replying and say: "No, we stand for the principle of handing over to co-operative bodies". Is the time ever to come when they are going to hand them over? That is the real position. I do not think the Minister will be able to give a clear answer there. If he does, I doubt if it will be worth very much notice, as he has no idea when they will be handed over. You have all sorts of new obstacles thrown up to prevent the handing over to the farmers. There is a demand, now, for a kind of plebiscite of milk suppliers. I have no interest in any proprietary concern. There is to be no plebiscite when the Dairy Disposals Board determines to step in and take a piece of private property. The milk suppliers there are not to be asked for their views. There is also to be full power on the part of that company to get full details as to the financial position of any institution which it proposes to take over, but if the co-operative societies approach the company I do not think they can get information as to the financial position of institutions they are anxious to take over. If a co-operative society is formed, and if it is ready to buy, can it examine the books of the Dairy Disposals Board as regards the position of that society?
Yes, at certain stages.
But the co-operative society is very often never allowed to reach that stage. A condition that has been laid down recently is that there is to be a kind of plebiscite as to the amount of milk supplies, but before the plebiscite is taken can a society see what the economic position of the business is? Perhaps the Minister would explain.
I gave the answer.
At certain stages.
I am trying to get at what stage. I understand that in certain cases the rule has been laid down that it must be shown that the bulk of the suppliers are behind the proposal.
The bulk of the suppliers cannot be got behind such a decision unless they know they are going to get a fair bargain. Very often they will not be allowed to investigate the position. Surely the bulk of the suppliers will not enter into a blind bargain?
It goes around in a circle. The Deputy will agree that there has to be a limit. If two or three inquisitive members of a suppliers' company say they want to see the balance sheet, naturally it will not be given unless it is thought there is something serious about it.
Suppose it was a serious matter and that the company was registered by the I.A.O.S., would it be allowed to examine the position?
It would get all the information necessary.
I am glad to hear that. I can assure the Minister it is news to me. We have it definitely now that a society registered by the I.A.O.S. can examine the books and trading accounts of a particular concern that they are anxious to take over before there is any plebiscite of the individual suppliers. We can leave it at that. The Dairy Disposals Board can get the last ounce of information at any time it likes if it proposes to take over a concern, but at the moment there is no reciprocity so far as the co-operative bodies are concerned, or not full reciprocity.
The only difference is that they are going to go through.
The Dairy Disposals Board. There is no guarantee that the other body will go through.
Why the concealment? If a concern organised by the I.A.O.S. desires to purchase why conceal the balance sheet? Is not that concealment a grave obstacle? It emphasises what Deputy Dockrell said. I can understand what a tremendous problem there is, but I should like to hear the Minister on the question of policy, which is not now clear. I can see the ground he has given to bring to practical completion by compulsory powers what was inaugurated 16 years ago. When we are asked to give these new powers I think this is an opportunity for the Minister to make a full and clear statement, not in the way of vague general principles, but of the actual practice intended to be adopted by the dairy company. Is it really to remain for all time an acquiring and holding company? Has the co-operative element dropped out altogether? At least let us know what the policy is. With all respect I do not think it is possible at present to determine what the policy of the dairy company is in that matter. From the time when the company has, apparently, turned the corner, its policy was more and more to hold on, and to become more and more chary about transferring the business and premises of creameries to co-operative bodies. Apart from small individual units there was one big case to which the Minister referred at that time, June, 1942. I think it has gone through since. Has the sale gone through of the big body to which he referred in an answer given in June last?
We can take it, then, that in recent years there has been no transfer. I admit that the company is doing a good deal of work, but was it necessary to drop almost completely such an essential portion of its policy? Is it questionable whether that should be stopped? I am not an expert, but the Minister should at least be in a position to know what the purposes of that particular body are.
There is this, and it is purely a matter of general principle rather than anything else, that you are here interfering with private property. This is one of the first cases of the kind, apart from land, in which that has been done. Has the Minister given any sufficient justification for this revolutionary step? Without any explanation of why they are doing it, except the general one given by the Minister, the Dairy Disposals Board can step in and say: "We are going to acquire your premises." They can choose the time. Naturally, if they are wise, they will wait for a lean year, as the price then might be lower. If there is no agreement, the matter has to go before an arbitrator, not appointed by the President of the High Court or the Chief Justice, but practically appointed by the body that is responsible. In fact, a party to the agreement will appoint the judge. I wonder whether that is equity. It is merely on that general ground of equity that I call attention to that. But my main purpose is really to find out what is the practical policy, not the theoretical aspirations, of the Minister and of the board at this particular moment.
I am opposing this Bill because I think it has been presented to the House without anything like a full disclosure of the circumstances that surround it and under an entirely inaccurate guise. This Bill is represented as a continuation of work begun 16 years ago when a Creamery Bill was introduced by Deputy Cosgrave's Government. That Bill was introduced under very peculiar and extraordinary circumstances. That Bill was introduced to prevent the type of competition that prevailed then and to get rid of a very big and powerful monopoly which largely controlled the dairy industry at that time. In that particular sense, that measure was a national one and received the support of this Party in common with other Parties in the House. To regard this measure as a continuation of that policy seems to me as ridiculous an exaggeration as ever I heard in this House.
If this measure to exterminate a number of small creameries—from 16 to 20 in all—is considered necessary, if this measure with all its drastic powers, which I hope to refer to in detail before I finish, is regarded as the weapon necessary to achieve harmony or continuity or unanimity in, or a comprehensive scheme for the whole industry, it seems to me like employing a sledge hammer to kill a fly.
I object to this measure on a number of grounds. I object to it on the ground that it is entirely bereft of any provision for compensation for the employees who will find themselves the victims of circumstances if the Bill is enacted. There is provision for compensation for the owners of the concerns, but there is not a single word about the employees, many of whom have given the best years of their life to the creamery industry. The Minister did not indicate by as much as a sentence what is to be the fate of these people when the Bill is enacted. I tried to get a census of the number of people concerned, and I believe that in the County and City of Cork the number would run into 300 or 400. Some of the people concerned have spent 40 years in employment in the creamery industry. There is no indication that any alternative position will be found for them, or that there will be one penny compensation for them. This House is asked to pass a measure of that kind without the slightest reference to the human element and the human tragedies behind a situation of that kind. We are asked to provide money to be handed over to a body described—and the description is a humorous one—as the Dairy Disposals Board, for the purpose of adding to their already very extensive property.
Deputy O'Sullivan was quite right when he said that this body should be called the Dairy Acquisition Board, because that has been the history of this body for a number of years. They have acquired property after property and they have not the least intention of letting go. They propose to swallow up one concern after the other, to add to their powers and to entrench more firmly the rather incompetent bureaucracy that the board really is, if the true facts were known—and, of course, there is an obvious reluctance, as there has been over a number of years, to let us know the facts in connection with the board. Even this evening it took some effort to ascertain that, disguised behind the alleged profit made by this board, was the very striking and astonishing fact that interest had not been met for a number of years.
I have here the Report of the Public Accounts Committee for the year 1940-41, and it is slightly more revealing than the Minister has been this evening as to the operations of the Dairy Disposals Board. In page 38 of the report there is the examination of Mr. Twomey, the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, in regard to the operations of the Dairy Disposals Board. He is being questioned by the Chairman of the Committee at paragraph 375, as follows:—
"The last portion of paragraph 19 reads:—
‘Including the expenditure of £20,339 3s. 11d. in the current year, the total Vote expenditure to 31st March, 1941, from moneys provided for the improvement of the creamery industry amounts to £1,191,767 5s. 2d. Receipts amount to £229,185 3s. 10d., leaving a net charge on public funds of £962,582 1s. 4d.'
I take it that is the ordinary annual informative paragraph about the operations.
Mr. Maher: That is so, and I understand the usual return of expenditure has been furnished to the Secretary of this Committee.
Chairman: We have it here.
Deputy O'Rourke: Does that mean that the dairy industry was subsidised to the extent of £962,582 1s. 4d. ?—The Dairy Disposal Company holds against that sum 17 central creameries, 106 separating stations, about 20 travelling creameries, one central condensory, and three sub-condensories.
Are there any assets to meet this amount?—No, I doubt if the assets would meet the sum outstanding in full.
Deputy McMenamin: There is also the annual production?—Yes."
Then at paragraph 385 the examination of Mr. Twomey goes on:—
"Chairman: Does the Dairy Disposal Company present a regular profit and loss account?—Not in the ordinary way. The accounts are presented, but one could not say that a profit and loss account is presented in the same sense as if it were an ordinary company.
Are these accounts accessible to Deputies?—I do not think they are accessible because the Minister on more than one occasion has taken up the attitude that some day he will have to dispose of these properties, and in the meantime he does not wish to disclose facts regarding them which might prejudice their sale.
Deputy McMenamin: But if the facts were favourable——
Deputy O'Rourke: They may not be."
I think I have quoted enough to show that the whole position of the Dairy Disposals Board, so-called, is very peculiar and extraordinary. It is a very remarkable fact that the Minister has not indicated where the demand has come from for the measure that is before us this evening. I contest the view expressed by the Minister that this is a continuation of the policy inaugurated by the Cosgrave Government in 1925, or whenever the measure was enacted. The suggestion that there still exists any serious danger to the dairying industry in this country arising out of the existence of a small number of these proprietary creameries cannot be sustained if the full facts are examined.
I regard the powers sought under this Bill as being very extraordinary. Members of this Party have always taken the view that, in certain circumstances, State action for the public good is necessary and desirable, but this is not State action in the sense that it is generally understood and sometimes applied. This is asking the House to provide public money for the purpose of handing over property to a concern that is not responsible to this House, that does not produce its accounts for inspection by members of this House, that cannot be questioned by this House and in respect of which nobody responsible can be found to answer in this House. It is asking the House to provide public money to hand over property and powers to that body in the most extraordinary way.
The Act passed in the time of the Cosgrave Government was passed for the purpose of ending a most unsatisfactory position in the dairying industry. It was passed for the purpose of getting rid of a very undesirable monopoly. We have not got rid of monopolies in this country and the Dairy Disposals Board is becoming very rapidly a most extensive monopoly in the country. In my opinion, it is for the purpose of entrenching more firmly in their well-sheltered bureaucracy the civil servants who run that concern at the present time that this measure is introduced. I have yet to learn of any extensive demand for it.
I am informed that the Minister's predecessor, a man who was keenly concerned in this question, who knew it in all its phases, was approached in West Cork a number of years ago and was asked to take action such as is indicated in this Bill. He declined to do it because he said he wished that any further extensions of the kind should be arranged by agreement and, because he regarded the concerns referred to as particularly well managed, he did not wish to interfere with them unless it was possible to arrange for their acquisition by agreement at some later stage.
Does the Minister suggest that all his persuasive powers have been exhausted in an effort to acquire by agreement the concerns that are the subject of this Bill? I would like to get more information on that point. I would like to hear, further, how it is proposed to defend the appointment by the Minister of an arbitrator to sit in judgment on this matter, against whose decision there is no right of appeal. I think that represents a most astonishing and amazing claim by the Minister, a claim that members of this House—I do not care what their views are on other questions—ought to be very concerned about, and which they should keenly resist. If this measure is to be enacted, and knowing the constitution of this House at the moment there seems to be no doubt about that, I suggest that at least provision should be made for an appeal in this matter of compensation and that that appeal should be to somebody who, by training and profession, is competent to weigh up matters of this kind. I suggest there should be in this measure, or there should be inserted in it if it receives a Second Reading and reaches the Committee Stage, provision for appeal to a Circuit Court judge for the purpose of satisfying the public generally and everybody concerned that this matter of compensation has been fairly and adequately dealt with. There should, at the same time, be provision for the employees concerned in the matter of compensation.
The powers sought under the Bill are very extraordinary indeed. Section 9 of the Bill provides that the Minister for Agriculture may make an Order requiring the proprietor of any creamery premises to sell to the company at a price to be determined under the section his estate and interest in the said creamery premises, together with all chattels on the premises and all rights attaching thereto. So that the Minister was quite right in his concluding statement in saying, in a few words, that this Bill represented certain things. The Minister's few words and the stroke of the pen are all that is required to create an entirely new and revolutionary position in this whole matter. I would direct the attention of the House to the particular manner in which this Bill will be put into operation. The Dairy Disposals Company having indicated their wishes to the Minister, the Bill will be put in motion by their applying for this sale order to which I have already referred.
The Minister will direct that copies of the order be served on owners of creameries, and as from the date on which the copy of the order is served on the owner of a creamery, the owner and the Dairy Disposals Board shall be deemed to have entered into an agreement for the sale of the creamery. Another portion of the Bill refers to the obligation on the proprietors of existing creameries the subject of this Bill, to make certain returns to the Minister, including an abstract of title, an inventory of chattels and a statement whether any chattels are held by him under a hire-purchase agreement. I understand that as far back as 1931 these returns were obtained by the Dairy Disposals Board from one particular section of the creameries. There is provision here for payment of the expenses incurred in the making of that return, but I understand that not one penny payment has yet been made in respect of the earlier return to which I referred.
I am not anxious at this stage to go into other matters that might throw a great deal of light on this Bill. The Minister seems to have been rather hazy on the origin of the milk war that took place in West Cork. I might be able to throw a good deal of light on that if I wished to go into these matters, and I am quite sure that the Minister could get more information in regard to them than he gave us here this evening. Perhaps in all the circumstances, it would be as well if we were to say nothing further about them. Perhaps it might be as well to say nothing more than was said by the Minister's colleague, Deputy Corry, in referring to certain transactions in West Cork that were the subject of court proceedings recently of which the Minister has some idea. They would throw a strange light on the whole trend of things; they would provide a rather extraordinary illumination as to where the demand for this particular measure has come from and how irresponsible that type of demand can be.
I am not satisfied that what has been done in regard to opening up certain districts in various parts of the country could not be done in as effective a way by means other than those adopted by the Dairy Disposals Board. I am not prepared to throw any bouquets at the Dairy Disposals Board for anything they have done, because, looking over the whole story, what they have done amounts to very little in my opinion. It is the kind of concern very dear to the hearts of the present Government. It is a State or semi-State concern for which nobody need answer here, the kind of concern which has neither a body to be kicked nor a soul to be damned. That is the type the Board is. This combination of civil servant-farmers represents, in my opinion, a most unsatisfactory arrangement. The general opinion is that it is a losing concern, that it has been a losing concern over a number of years, that it has been bolstered up by various means and subterfuges, and that there is no intention on the part of the people connected with it to let go the power they have got in this country, but rather to seek more power at every possible opportunity.
The Dairy Disposals Board have a number of creameries in West Cork. If there is a demand for other creameries amongst the farmers, why not hand over some of these creameries to them? Why cannot they let us have a full and complete statement of their position? Why do they continue to masquerade as a concern, pretending to dispose of property acquired over a very considerable time, and giving no indication that they have any intention of getting rid of that property? I dislike monopolies such as the Dairy Disposals Board seem to represent. The tendency in this country is to set them up in every direction. We have them in every Department. We have them in national health insurance, industrial insurance, and in every branch of public life. State ownership and State control would be a clear and understandable thing. Somebody would be responsible, but there is nobody responsible for the type of hybrid creation that is represented by monopolies of this sort. I regard them as a danger. They are generally inefficient, and it is very hard to get down to the root of things. They are able to cover up their tracks by some high-sounding excuses from time to time.
I have asked the Minister to give us the reasons for the introduction of this measure and to tell us where the demand has come from, to tell us seriously, if he is prepared to do it, why the continued existence of a few proprietary creameries in West Cork is a menace or a danger to the dairy industry in this country. The Minister asserts that they are, but if he can prove that in this House, I am prepared to revise my whole view of this matter. I want him to say whether he thinks it just or fair in present circumstances, knowing the history of the relations that have existed between certain officials of his Department and certain proprietary creameries in West Cork for years, that the question of deciding what the price is to be and who is to constitute the arbitration court should be a matter in his own hands. I ask him whether he thinks it does not represent any more than the elementary principles of fair play that there should be an appeal from the decision of the arbitrator to the Circuit Court on the question of determining the value of the undertakings to be taken over.
Again I want to emphasise the position of the employees in this industry. The Minister indicated that most of the creameries will be closed. Some may be taken over but, in any circumstances that will arise, the bulk of the employees are going to be flung on the roadside. Is this a time to do that? Where is the urgency of the situation that calls for that decision at present? We have a number of people on the roadside because of other circumstances. We have a number of people leaving the country because they have nothing to do here. The employees in this particular industry are getting fairly good wages. They have got fairly good wages during the whole period of their employment and in many cases it has meant employment for the sons of men who were employed in the concern beforehand. Does the Minister think that this is a suitable and appropriate time to add a few hundred to the number of people already unemployed? Does he say it is a time to dismiss employees with whatever paltry sum in the way of compensation may be ultimately decided?
I dislike the methods by which this Bill has reached this House. I dislike the indefinite and unsatisfactory way in which it has been introduced. I dislike the absence of full information about this concern which is to take over the creameries. I am entirely doubtful as to whether the Dairy Disposals Board have any intention or desire of handing over the creameries to the farmers. I am entirely doubtful as to whether the handing over of the creameries at the present time or at any time in the future, is going to be of any practical benefit to the farmers of West Cork. For these reasons, I oppose the Bill and I hope to have an opportunity of saying something further about it at a later stage.
I believe that there are very urgent reasons for the introduction of this Bill, and I am satisfied that there is a demand for it. In West Cork, there is very serious overlapping of creamery services. It is an extraordinary thing to see two creameries on either side of a road in a village or townland, with all the duplication of services that that entails. There is no hope of farmers in that area co-operating to the extent of bringing their milk to market, because in every townland you have farmers going to two different creameries. One man cannot assist another in bringing his milk to the creamery. In other parts of the area, you have co-operative societies setting up creameries very close to one another. Competition is also proceeding amongst those societies. From the point of view of reorganising the co-operative societies themselves, this Bill is necessary.
Moreover, and more important, there are many areas, especially the poorer areas in West Cork, where no facilities are provided for the farmers to market their milk. We had experience in the past of proprietary and co-operative societies jumping in and establishing their claim in the best or richest areas. They kept everybody else out and left the poor areas surrounding them to fend for themselves, with the result that no facilities were ever provided for those poorer areas. Before I deal with that question of the poorer areas, I should like to say that no tribute to the Dairy Disposals Company is adequate for their work in the organising and marketing of the milk supply. Their work in the Beara Peninsula has been a tremendous success. In that area, no proprietary or co-operative undertaking was prepared to organise the milk supply because it was thought that it would not be a paying proposition, that the supply would be too small. The Dairy Disposals Company have gone in there and organised every gallon of milk in the Peninsula. They made the market as convenient as possible— indeed, very convenient—for every farmer in that area. They have paid a fair and just price for the milk and, while their accounts are not published, from any information I can obtain I am satisfied that they have made their business in that area pay very well. It is in the hope that facilities for the marketing of milk will be provided in similar areas in West Cork that I welcome this Bill.
Take the area from Adrigole to Kealkil. One co-operative society established a creamery in Kealkil but they left all the area between that and Adrigole without any facilities for the marketing of milk. They never make any movement in that direction until such time as action similar to this is taken. The same society established— I do not like to say "jumped"—a claim near Schull. They set up there and left the country west of it fend for itself. They established a branch at Kilcrohane which they said would not pay but which has paid very well up to the present. Still, they have not developed the country between there and Bantry. I suggest that the Minister should take power in this Bill to compel people who have taken control of such areas as that to provide a market for the whole area and not confine themselves to the richest or most convenient little patch in it. Amongst the co-operative societies themselves there is a fair share of overlapping and competition which does not serve the interests of the farmer or the interests of the people of the area generally. One co-operative society in West Cork recently declared a profit of £10,000 on the year's work. It would be very interesting to learn how much of that sum of £10,000 represented a direct profit on milk and how much was derived from other trading. It is wrong that a co-operative society of farmers should neglect to provide marketing facilities in their area for all the farmers while they have time and money to engage in trading of other kinds because it brings in an extraordinary profit.
This Bill is certainly a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. Some provision should be made to ensure that co-operative societies cater for the people in their area. Another serious matter, neglected, I think, in the other Bills, is the provision of compensation or employment for displaced workers. I agree with the other Deputies who have spoken on this matter that any Act of the Oireachtas which deprives a man of his way of earning a living should provide for payment of just compensation to him if alternative employment cannot be found for him. There is nothing new in that suggestion because in various other Acts—the Local Government Act, the Road Transport Act and the Shannon Development Act— provision is made for displaced employees. I understood from the Minister that, even though this provision was not included in the 1928 Act, £53,000 was provided as compensation for redundant staff. I am quite prepared to put down amendments to ensure that employees will not be in a worse position because of the operation of this Act. There is no reason why they should. There is a huge area to be developed and young men can be employed in its development. The older men should get alternative employment near their homes, and men who are redundant should be compensated in a just manner. I am sure the Minister or the board would not attempt to place an experienced creamery manager of 20, 30 or 40 years' service, who knows his business from A to Z, on the unemployed list. I think the experience of these men would be valuable to the board and I hope that, before this Bill is finished with, some provision will be made in that respect.
I think it is quite right for Deputies to refer to the fact that no balance sheet has been made available to enable us to examine the operations of the Dairy Disposals Board. I can speak only of what I see in my own area, and I am quite satisfied with the board's operations there, but I feel that it would be much better if we knew exactly what their all-over operations were. I ask the Minister very earnestly to get this Bill through as quickly as possible, my main object being to provide a market for the farmers of the areas in West Cork, where no market exists, and to provide that market, if at all possible, this year. I trust also that he will include some fair and just provision for the employees. Perhaps we shall have an opportunity of helping in that matter later on.
Our whole attitude to this Bill depends on what the policy of the Government is with regard to the Dairy Disposals Company—whether it is to become a permanent institution in the State or not, and whether it is to do certain work which it was originally intended to do. The Minister indicated that his predecessor, some 16 years ago, realising that there was an amount of cut-throat competition and redundancy of creameries in the dairying districts and certain powerful monopolies operating in these districts, decided that it was necessary to reorganise the whole dairying industry. A Bill was passed setting up this company. It was set up for the definite purpose of reorganising the industry and of extending the creamery industry to districts in which it was not in existence, notably Clare and Kerry.
The Minister at that time indicated that he hoped and expected that the company would complete the work for which it was brought into being within five years, and the title of the Bill was obviously an indication of that. It was designed to dispose of certain creameries and was not called a dairy acquisition company. In reply to a Parliamentary Question which I had down to-day, with reference to the number of concerns disposed of to co-operative societies by the company, the Minister said that, up to 1932, during the period of office of the previous Government, 46 creameries taken over were disposed of to co-operative societies, and, since 1932 to date, only nine had been taken over.
Surely it is reasonable to suggest that that is contrary to the intention indicated by the decision to set up a body of this sort to reorganise dairying and to put it in a better financial condition. I do not think it can be denied that the company has done certain useful work, but what we really are criticising is that we have no information as to what it is costing the State, and, in fact, we are not entitled to know whether the administration and work of the company have been efficient or otherwise. No accounts are submitted to the Committee of Public Accounts and no balance sheet is published. According to the Minister, the total advances by the State amount to £1,172,000, but the information given by the Accounting Officer before the Committee of Public Accounts was that the sum advanced amounted to £1,191,767—a difference of £20,000. Whichever figure is accurate, there is a small matter of £20,000 of a difference.
The Minister was not able to give us any information as to what comprises the amount repaid, of £236,000. He indicated that the bigger portion of it was the £3 per cow charge, but did not indicate what portion of it covers the amount of capital paid by co-operative societies in acquiring creameries. He went on to show that the gross liability, not including interest or other charges, was £800,000. No company can expect to have large sums of capital provided without any charge, and there is no use in the Minister trying to make the case that this company is now beginning to operate on an economic basis. The Minister gives the value of the assets at present as about £782,000, leaving a balance of £18,000, but he did not tell us who made that valuation, or on what basis it was made, or, in fact, whether it would be possible to realise that amount in present circumstances at all. I should be very much inclined to question that figure of £782,000 as the value of the assets.
It appears to me, as it appeared to me last year when we were questioning the Accounting Officer at the Public Accounts Committee, to be extraordinary that in recent years so very few of these businesses have been acquired by co-operative societies. We were more or less given to understand at that time that there was very little demand for the acquisition by any co-operative societies of any creameries. During the examination of the Accounting Officer before the Public Accounts Committee, I asked: Is there any inducement to a co-operative society to take over a creamery when you are operating these creameries free of charge? The reply of the Accounting Officer was: From the point of view of the supplier of milk, there is not, because he is getting as good a price for his milk as is paid by the co-operative creamery.
Remember, the original intention was that this company should take over certain proprietary creameries, should close up any redundant creameries or auxiliary creameries and, in fact, it should take over, as they have taken over, co-operative creameries which were in a bad financial condition, reorganise them, put them on a sound financial basis and a good working basis, and then hand them back to a new society. That is being done. The price is, relatively, the same as the price paid by the co-operative societies, but of course one must realise that there is no great inducement for a co-operative society to take over certain responsibilities and liabilities which the State—or, rather, a company subsidised by the State—is prepared to take over. It seems to me to be unfair and unreasonable to co-operative societies in other areas, which have to shoulder their capital liabilities and meet the various charges in connection with their capital liabilities, if a similar service is going to be given by a State-subsidised company of this sort.
Now, I understand, from reading the reports of the I.A.O.S., that a number of creameries or co-operative societies tried to acquire the property of this company, that they have made certain offers, and that the real problem was that they could not arrive at what they considered to be a fair price. Again, in connection with that question, the Accounting Officer, in reply to a question before the Committee of Public Accounts, said:—
"We would have no difficulty in disposing of these creameries to new societies if we would give them at a low price. We are inclined to hold out for such price as will recoup the State for the original cost, plus the cost of improvements—new plant and new buildings—since they were taken over."
Of course, if that is the attitude of the company and of the Minister, it is very unlikely that there is any possibility of getting any of those creameries taken over by a society. I think that the Minister and the House must realise that if, as the Minister has pointed out, a certain amount of redundancy had to be eliminated, it would not be possible for a new society that had to get capital to meet the cost of getting rid of those redundant societies and of reorganising others, as well as compensating the staffs of the redundant societies. It seems to me to be unreasonable that there is not some provision made for fixing what is a fair and reasonable price as between the Dairy Disposals Board and a new society, or even a reorganised old society, that is prepared to take the thing over and work it without incurring any liability on the State. Taking the long view, I think that where such creameries are being run efficiently at the moment, we will have to realise that certain losses must be incurred if these creameries are going to be taken over, and I think the Minister should consider having, say, one or two experienced valuers in dealing with any negotiations between the company and the societies concerned, and that those valuers would take everything into account, such as previous agreements, the intention of the original Act, and so on, with a view to seeing that the price arrived at would be a price that, in the circumstances, the society would be able to meet, and which would enable it to meet whatever charges, by way of pensions and so on, might be incurred.
There is no use in the Minister demanding from a creamery a price that is prohibitive, or that would make the project uneconomic in the long run. It must be remembered that the suppliers of milk to the creamery concerned are being paid a price that compares favourably with the price paid to the others, and you cannot hope to dispose of such a creamery on that basis. For instance, I understand that the New-market people have made several offers since 1928—even up to last year—with a view to acquiring from the Dairy Disposals Board a number of creameries in the North Cork area.
I understand that certain offers were made and that the Minister indicated to the deputation who discussed the matter with him that a condition of the sale would be that the Department of Agriculture must be satisfied that the local suppliers were favourable to the project. Surely, if the I.A.O.S., who were subsidised by the State to promote co-operative organisation in this country, have interested themselves in forming a co-operative society, and have interested themselves in negotiating the taking over and disposal of those creameries—as was the intention under the original Act—that should be sufficient evidence for the Minister that the suppliers are satisfied that those creameries should be taken over and controlled by themselves? If that is the attitude of the Minister now, what was his attitude to the compulsory acquisition of those creameries that he is going to deal with in this Bill? Has he tested the feelings of the suppliers of milk to those creameries, and does he feel that they are satisfied that they should be taken over in present circumstances? Is one law going to apply to one concern in one particular set of circumstances, and a different law to apply to the owners of private creameries, or even to co-operative creameries, in a different set of circumstances? I understand that there are other groups also. For instance, there is the Dicksgrove group in County Kerry, which is referred to in this report of the I.A.O.S., who want to acquire a number of those creameries that could be worked efficiently there. The Minister should inform the House what are the considerations which have operated against the disposal of those creameries to societies which have proved that they are capable of operating them economically and efficiently.
The Minister has referred to competition between creameries, and to a certain amount of cut-throat competition that may be there still. Does not the Minister know that the Rattoo Co-operative Creamery have complained of the fact that the board has taken over certain milk suppliers, and has refused to return them to the co-operative creamery. The board, in fact, has broken an agreement by accepting milk from a number of transferred suppliers. Surely that is not in the interests of the co-operative movement in this country? Is it the policy of the Minister and the Government to put the brake on any further effort by the I.A.O.S., and deliberately to sabotage and prevent the extension of co-operative organisation in this country? Is it the policy of the Government that the Dairy Disposals Board, which was originally set up for a specific purpose, to operate for a very short period, is to become a permanent institution in the life of the dairying industry in this country? Those are matters on which we want very clear and definite information before we can make up our minds as to whether this sort of compulsory acquisition can be supported. I agree with other Deputies that it is very undesirable to operate for a long period a board of this sort controlled by civil servants, on which the ordinary business people or the agricultural community have no representation. I think it might be well too if the Minister, when replying, would give us the names of the members of this board, and their qualifications.
With regard to the sort of competition to which the Minister has referred, he knows that in the town of Tipperary there is a co-operative creamery, and that the Dairy Disposals Board has also a creamery in that town. Deputy O'Sullivan tried to justify this Bill by informing the House that in some towns and villages you have, cheek by jowl, two proprietary creameries in operation. But you have that condition operating in the town of Tipperary. That has been the situation there for a good many years, and no effort has been made to solve that problem.
Why should that state of affairs be permitted? It is contrary to the original intention of the Bill that that should be permitted to continue. I join in condemnation of the methods adopted in the compulsory acquisition of those creameries, and the manner of arriving at a fair figure of compensation. I think it is ridiculous to suggest that a party to the acquisition should appoint an arbitrator. If the proposal is left in its present form, the owners of the creameries that are to be acquired can hardly feel that they will get a fair measure of justice.
I think Deputy Dockrell was right in raising the point as to why the State should have any priority claim for debts that are not secured. That means that existing encumbrances and mortgages will have only a secondary claim. Why should the State get a priority claim for any debts that are not secured? Why should the State get any preference in that regard over the individual who has made capital advances and gone to the trouble of securing them in the ordinary way? I do not think it is right that, merely by the introduction of this provision, those mortgages which were well founded should be ignored, while the State gets a priority claim. I hope the Minister will deal with the various aspects of this problem which we have raised, and particularly with the attitude regarding the capital that is advanced, and the fact that even the House and the public are not entitled to any information on the matter of accounts or the publication of a balance sheet. The Dáil cannot form proper judgments of the efficiency of this board as a business body, unless it gets separate accounts. We should get those accounts for the past 15 years if we are to satisfy ourselves that this board can be entrusted with the business which this Bill suggests should be compulsorily acquired by it. We are entitled to be put in a position to judge the efficiency of the board's administration. We can only do so by having at our hand separate accounts for the years during which it has been in operation.
I wish to support this Bill and to pay a compliment to the Dairy Disposals Board for the efficient manner in which they have carried out their duties up to the present. While saying that, I agree with Deputy Dockrell that some other form of arbitration should be set up with a view to assessing the value of the premises and the property being taken over. My memory goes back to a situation which prevailed 11 years ago in Rathmore village, where you had a proprietary creamery, a co-operative creamery, and an outside co-operative creamery cutting right into the same area. At that particular time the co-operative creamery was in a very serious position, and owed a very large sum of money to the bank, with the result that a number of us had to approach the bank with a view to getting a reduction, before going to the Minister for Agriculture to get him to straighten out the creamery situation in that area. Had not the Minister intervened at that particular time, and got the Dairy Disposals Board to take over all the premises and form one unit there, I am fully satisfied that we would have no efficient creamery operating in that area to-day. We have at the moment one central creamery in Rathmore, four auxiliaries and three travelling creameries. Take the district along the seaboard, from Kenmare to Cahirciveen, in those two districts we could get no group of commercial people or men of capital to form a group of creameries. That had to wait until the Dairy Disposals Board was established and, with Government backing, we now have a central creamery with a number of auxiliaries operating in Kenmare and Cahirciveen. We then come to another area which touches good land and at the same time runs into a lot of reclaimed land, namely, Castlemaine. Here we have a regrouping of existing creameries, and auxiliaries built.
Now, the point I wish to stress is this, that if the erection of creameries was left to private capital or to commercial people we would not, to this day, along that sea-board, have any creameries operating. That is an important point to bear in mind. It is all right to get a co-operative creamery or a private individual to go into a good dairying district and start a creamery, where the successful working of it is a certainty, but it is another thing to go into an area where no creamery has heretofore existed and where the possibility of operating one successfully is doubtful.
I must compliment the Dairy Disposals Board for having the courage to start the creameries in the areas mentioned and for having operated those creameries so successfully. The Minister for Agriculture has given certain figures. He has shown that in the first three or four years of operation there was a loss, but after that the creameries started to pay. That is an indication that it was a bold venture to enter those districts, to start creameries and to make them pay. I think the Dairy Disposals Board deserves to be complimented for having carried out its work so satisfactorily.
With regard to the re-sale of the creameries to co-operative societies, I listened to Deputy O'Sullivan referring to the reluctance of the Dairy Disposals Board to part with certain creameries. I know that Deputy O'Sullivan has been approached by probably three or four people who are rather anxious to get the plum creameries in County Kerry handed back to them. I would not mind the creameries being handed back to the milk suppliers, but I would have an objection to handing them back to four or five individuals, backed by £15,000 or £17,000, but who have very little support from the milk suppliers. I hope that, if handing back takes place, the creameries will be given to the milk suppliers and not to any outside group.
The fact that we have the Dairy Disposals Board endeavouring to keep an even keel between the good dairying districts and the poorer areas is an important factor. When I was approached regarding the sale of the creameries, I gave a reasonable answer and I am giving the same answer to the House, and that is that when the milk suppliers unanimously demand the creameries I would raise no objection, but I will not allow them to pick the plum creameries and leave the others there. That is the answer I gave, and that is my attitude here so far as giving back the creameries to the milk suppliers is concerned.
Information with reference to the accounts of the Dairy Disposals Board is given in reply to Question 386 in the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee of Public Accounts for the year 1940-41. The Accounting Officer was asked: "Are these accounts accessible to Deputies?" He replied: "I do not think they are accessible, because the Minister on more than one occasion has taken up the attitude that some day he will have to dispose of these properties, and in the meantime he does not wish to disclose facts regarding them which might prejudice their sale." I think that is a rather questionable attitude for the Minister to take up. He does not want persons who contemplate the repurchase of these creameries to know what they are doing; he wants them, as it were, to buy a pig in a poke. He does not want them to have the long picture of the financial record of these creameries, because he feels that might be used as an effective lever against him for the purpose of establishing a lower price than he wants, and the price he wants is the cost of the creameries, the cost of organising the district, together with the cost of putting in any additional machinery.
We all know that the activities of the Dairy Disposals Board have been of an eleemosynary character. Certain areas in Kerry are being converted into dairying districts by the Dairy Disposals Board for some purpose which I do not quite understand. There are travelling creameries in Kerry separating milk on the seashore. Why they are making a creamery district of West Kerry heaven alone knows, because if you search the face of the earth for land less suitable for dairying purposes, I doubt if you will find it. But, having established creameries in West Kerry, and having spent large sums of money for that purpose; having gone into areas in Limerick and Cork which are creamery areas and spent large sums, the Minister is now willing to sell them back to persons at a price which will recoup him for his total expenditure. That is why he will not publish accounts.
I think the Dáil ought to make him publish the accounts, so that we will know how much the creamery industry is costing the country. Nobody does know. At the present moment most of the new creamery groupings are probably making money. The Minister might be induced to publish the accounts now. He ought to publish the accounts of the enterprise for the past 15 years, so that we can learn what the reorganisation of the dairying industry is costing.
The production of butter in this country for export is as dead as Queen Anne. It will never pay a profit again, and the sooner Deputies make up their minds to that the better. The production of butter for export will never pay a profit again and, frankly, any efforts to maintain that trade, to keep it in existence, are doomed to failure. They will swallow endless sums of money, so long as the dairying counties keep up their pressure on successive Ministers for Agriculture. That nugatory expenditure may be continued for some years under the pressure of political blackmail. When the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Industry and Commerce go round the country bleating about what Fianna Fáil did to save the dairying industry, they know they are talking through their hats. The dairying industry has collapsed and is not in a position even to supply butter to our own people. The Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Minister for Agriculture have achieved this much: they have so sterilised and paralysed the dairying industry that we have not sufficient butter to feed our own people. For the first time in history since Brian Boru was slaughtered on the battlefield of Clontarf, we are unable to produce sufficient butter to meet the requirements of the Irish people. What the Danes could not do, what Queen Elizabeth could not do, what the Cromwellians could not do, and what the Hanoverians could not do, the Minister for Agriculture has done. He has created a situation in which there is not enough butter being produced here to feed the Irish people. If any argument were necessary to justify the winding-up of the Dairy Disposals Board, I suggest that is the most potent one there could be. Any body functioning under the direct control of a Minister who has succeeded in creating the phenomenal situation in which we have no butter for our own people must prove to demonstration that it is not making as big a mess of the work that it is supposed to be doing under his control as he is making of the work that he is supposed to be doing. I do not know what success is attending the efforts of the Dairy Disposals Board because we cannot see, and will not be shown, its accounts.
The Kerry Deputies have reason to rejoice if they can get somebody to go into Kerry to pour out public money there. If you have a situation in which you have three creameries in a parish and one of them is bankrupt, and if the Dairy Disposals Board will come in and buy the two solvent creameries, setting up the bankrupt one as a monopolist in the parish, who will blame the Kerry Deputies for rejoicing? They can well say that the Dairy Disposals Board was a magnificent institution to set on foot. What are we going to do in connection with the dairying industry? Are we going to go on passing Dairy Acts every three years, pouring a little more money into a sinking ship, or are we seriously going to face the situation that confronts us? The production of butter for export is as dead as Queen Anne. Is there anyone with sufficient intelligence and enterprise to take effective steps to preserve the dairy cattle population of the country? In order to do that something more than the passing of miserable little Bills like this will have to be undertaken. There are two methods of dealing with it. One is to withdraw from the business altogether and let it stand on its own legs. If, say, you have three creameries in Rathkeale, have open competition, and let the most highly efficient unit survive. Withdraw Government control altogether. That is one way. The other method, and I believe the better one, would be to set up an organisation analogous to the E.S.B. Call it the Milk Manufacturing Board, and give it a monopoly in all the processes of milk manufacture. Let it take the whole country as a unit and give it the exclusive charge of manufacturing and marketing butter, cheese, and casein. They have something of the kind in Denmark—although there, I believe, it happens to be a combination of co-operative societies. Let the system be founded on free competition, with the survival of the most efficient units. Such a system would, I believe, produce the best results. The Fianna Fáil methods will produce nothing but confusion, bewilderment and waste of money.
I want to warn the House against the growth of the power of this bureaucratic body—the Dairy Disposals Board. What actually happened was this: that three or four very energetic men in the Government service were charged with the task of disentangling the creamery tangle. As they became more and more deeply involved in this job the creameries that they had sorted out and reorganised became more or less their life's work. Their success or failure, their progress or decline, became the prime interest of their lives, and they did not want to let go. Who will blame earnest or energetic men for feeling that way? If their zeal is allowed to carry them on, they will spread their tentacles to every county, so that we will have a semi-public corporation controlling the greater part of the creamery industry. The next stage will be of the kind of which we had a picture here to-day. Two Kerry Deputies got up, one saying that you ought to sell the creameries in Kerry, and the other saying that you ought not. I know what will happen. The Deputies will agree amongst themselves in regard to the creameries that they want sold, whether in North Kerry or in South Kerry. Political pressure will begin to be felt. The vested interests will bring pressure to bear on the political Minister for the time being charged with responsibility in connection with the Department of Agriculture. Of all systems of organisation that is the most hopeless and abominable, because the creamery industry will become just a big political pig-trough in which every political racketeer in the country will be putting his snout. That would be the most disastrous development of all.
I think that the proposal for unrestricted competition and for the survival of the fittest is probably impracticable, though it has a good deal to commend it. I believe myself that the most effective solution would be the establishment of a milk manufacturing board. The big vested interests will scream blue blazes at that, but they will have to be dealt with justly and fairly. I would not advocate confiscation. Everybody whose property is acquired, or whose means of livelihood is interfered with, should get fair and just compensation. This board should be as efficient in its sphere as the Electricity Supply Board is in its. It should have control over all milk not used in the producer's own homestead. It would arrange that in certain areas cheese would be manufactured, in other areas butter, and in other areas, in certain times of the year, casein. It should concern itself not only with individual small units, but it should be in a position to promote the consumption of liquid milk by means of effective campaigns to that end. It could also afford the necessary research to discover the best means of using the by-products of milk. It could encourage the introduction of suitable cattle on to farms where unsuitable cattle are at present being kept. In a word, it could conduct scientific investigations into the most effective way of carrying on the dairying industry. It could do something to end the abuses that at present exist to the knowledge of all of us—of farmers hanging on to unprofitable cows and then complaining that they cannot make money out of milk production at present prices. The board could take effective measures to compel farmers to belong to a creamery society and keep cows capable of producing a gallonage which would constitute them as economic units. If these men were not prepared to do that they should be told to get out of the dairying industry since they were simply a clog on those who were doing their duty.
There must be a realistic approach to this whole problem. The introduction and reintroduction of piecemeal petty measures, such as we are considering this evening, will get us nowhere. Every measure of this kind gives the comfortable kind of feeling that we are doing something to help the dairying industry. We sit back for another six months and wait for the next crisis to come along. We are not doing anything for the industry by passing measures of this kind. We are simply putting patches over a running sore. Sooner or later the patches will have to come off and radical treatment will have to be applied to the ulcer. Unless we do something now for the dairying industry the whole agricultural economy of this country will come clattering down on top of us. I regard it as the foundation of our agricultural economy which is the foundation of the State.
Is the Minister for Agriculture satisfied to take the long-term view with regard to the prospects of the dairying industry? Does he not share my view, and the view of the Taoiseach, of its utter ruin post-war unless there is introduced into it a diversity of products, and a very much higher standard of efficiency than at present obtains? If he does not agree with those conclusions, what are we going to do about it? I am satisfied that if we set up a milk manufacturing and marketing board, with instructions to it to concern itself with the interests of producers and consumers, we can save the dairying industry. As long as the interests of producers and consumers are left in the hands of middlemen, and of those concerned with the distribution of liquid milk, then the industry will remain in its present state of chaotic confusion. Nothing will be done for the protection of the entire industry.
I want to say in conclusion what it would not be possible for me to say if I were a member of a political party. It has been said that creamery committees are composed of very efficient bodies of men. There may be some. I have never met them. I do not doubt that in Limerick, and in certain parts of Cork and Tipperary, where people are engaged in a large way in the dairying industry, you may meet with very efficient committees, but in the congested areas which, normally, are not dairying areas at all, my profound conviction is that the creameries are effectively operated by the creamery manager. If you have a good creamery manager the creamery will be well run. If you have a bad creamery manager, the committee will be of little or no use in effecting the reforms necessary to ensure the success of the enterprise. I know that is an unpopular thing to say, but that has been my experience of committees of the kind.
I have no doubt that if we are to save the dairying industry we can only do so by establishing a body like the Electricity Supply Board. I venture to draw an analogy between the creamery committees and the landlords. When the Land League was started a lot of people came forward and said that you should not abolish all the landlords, because some of them were very good men. Every branch of the League was constrained to admit that that was true: that some landlords were public spirited, decent, Christian men. Better men there could not be. The evils, however, that resulted from the existence of all landlords far outweighed the benefits that accrued from the existence of the few good ones.
I have no doubt that there are good creamery committees which are most energetic and intelligent, and who would conscientiously do their duty. But there are also bad ones, composed of men who do not understand the business, and who think more of their own personal interests than they do of the enterprise entrusted to them to manage. They are composed partly of men who are too lazy to set themselves up against a manager, because they are afraid of him, and partly, I am sorry to say, of men who think that, by hunting continually with the manager, they may get some little concession out of him, to the detriment of their fellow-members in the co-operative society. The damage that committees of that kind can do, in my judgment, outweighs the advantages that accrue from their activities. I would be in favour of abolishing them all as executive bodies. I would allow, if needs be, that the committees in the country be shareholders, or members of the milk marketing board to which I refer.
They should be sober men.
The milk marketing board.
Why does the Deputy toss his head? I admit at once that there are good creamery committees, but does the Deputy maintain that all the creamery committees are good and effective?
They are not. I saw a creamery committee take as fine a creamery as ever was built, and in five years they made feathers of it, and then sold the machinery out, leaving nothing but an empty shell, although the creamery had £2,000 or £3,000 in reserve some years ago. There was nothing we could do but watch that happening. I did what I could. I went to the Department and to the I.A.O.S., and was told blankly that they were "doing swell," but now there is nothing there but the four walls. I know another creamery that has gone down the drain in that way.
What happened in the case of some of them was that there were weak, inefficient committees: so long as there was a good manager, everything went well, but the moment there was a bad manager there was no authority there to control him, check him or, if needs be, sack him. Almost invariably, these weak committees are to be found in the areas that can least afford it. Where you have well-to-do farmers with large herds, you are sure to get a group of men with strength of character to control with knowledge and efficiency. They are able to afford a manager who knows the business and they are able to take an intelligent interest in the day-to-day workings of the creamery. When you have small areas, however, where there are 10- or 12-acre farmers, as in a congested area, they are liable, even when they feel in their hearts that they do not know enough, to set their judgment against that of the manager. Then they find the creameries going bankrupt, with the guarantors mulcted and the creameries destroyed.
Bearing that in mind, I adhere to the view that the only basis on which you can save the industry as a whole is to set up a board analogous to the Electricity Supply Board and style it the Milk Supply and Marketing Board, for the control of the industry and for the service of the interests of the producer and consumer. Under the present system, we are getting nowhere, we are merely confusing the industry and persuading the bulk of the people that the Dairy Disposals Board is doing good when, in fact, it is far from doing that. We are covering up the cracks and saying that creameries are doing well, and if this complacency continues, then it will be too late to do anything. The catastrophe that will then ensue will hit every farmer, large and small, and it will tax the ingenuity of the best statesmen and economists in Europe to put it right. I do not know what hope there would be for Irish agriculture if the dairying industry really collapsed. It is in grave danger of doing so. Unless we face that issue effectively and try to prevent it, our name and reputations will have to answer to posterity, and I do not care to state what posterity's verdict will be upon it.
I think that this Bill is a continuation of that introduced by the Minister's predecessor, under the Cosgrave régime, and I welcome it as being overdue. There has been no criticism of the Bill from any part of the House, except for a little from Deputy Murphy; but there has been some criticism of the Dairy Disposals Board. Possibly there are various reasons to justify that, but some Deputies have been rather harsh in their statements about the board. In my constituency in West Cork, where a travelling creamery has been established, it has been very successful and is a great asset to the milk producers of that district. Whilst other criticisms by Deputies may be justified, I must put in one good word in regard to that development in my constituency.
Under existing conditions, if there is not to be a regrouping, when this Bill becomes law, of the rest of the co-operative creameries in West Cork, I hope that the Dairy Disposals Board will extend its functions and take in other poor areas in the district.
There has been very little criticism of the Bill. There is nothing in it to criticise, as it is merely carrying on the work that was started under the Cosgrave régime. If there is anything to justify this Bill being introduced, it is the way things have worked out since the Act was passed 16 or 17 years ago. Deputy Dillon referred to co-operative creameries that were not successful. We had numbers of them in the past, but there have been very few failures since the reorganisation of the whole co-operative system. In fact, I venture to say that there have not been two failures in the whole country since the reorganisation took place, and that finishes Deputy Dillon's argument that the co-operative creameries are not a success. I do not know on what the Deputy bases his argument, but the facts are there to prove that co-operative creameries are working successfully all over the country.
This Bill deals more or less exclusively with County Cork and the West Cork area. Deputy Murphy asked the Minister if there was any attempt at agreement or negotiation with the party concerned in the purchase of these creameries. I am satisfied that negotiation has been going on for years and that the Minister has made attempts time and again to negotiate with the parties concerned. He has failed and, as a result, this Bill had to be introduced. The necessity for it is the overlapping and redundancy, where there may be two creameries in a little village—as mentioned by Deputy O'Sullivan—a creamery on either side of a road in another place, and creameries vying and competing with each other, and no satisfaction given by either side. If this Bill did nothing but cut the losses through overheads in that particular area, it would be having a very good effect.
With regard to Deputy Dillon's remarks about co-operative societies and individual proprietary owners, in my opinion, the co-operative societies are doing more to encourage and increase milk production than any other body in this country. I know many cases in point—as do many Deputies here—of co-operative societies, anxious to increase milk production, which are subsidising members in the purchase of double dairy shorthorn bulls, in order to try to reach the ideal of the 700 or 800 gallon cow, which should be the average all over the country instead of being like black sheep, as they are at the moment. That work being done by co-operative societies is the greatest asset that the milk producers could have, and the initiative of the societies in doing this should be applauded. I think they are doing excellent work in trying to increase milk production in the country.
If and when these creameries are acquired by the Minister, I hope that the areas in West Cork which have been untouched so far, and into which the co-operative societies did not get their tentacles, will be dealt with. When this Bill becomes law and acquisition takes place, I hope that the co-operative societies will be compelled to start hand-separating stations or travelling creameries, so as to get into touch with the people in those areas who at the moment are not in a position to market their butter or milk under favourable conditions. That is a very important purpose for which creameries are required in West Cork. The parties that have my sympathy are those who will be out of work when creameries are acquired. I do not know how many would be included in such a group, but Deputy Murphy stated that there might be between 70 and 100 persons. Some provision should be made for them. Deputy Murphy made a strong appeal not to have these people thrown on the roadside.
Some of them have given from 30 to 40 years' faithful service to their employers. It would not be fair to tax the incoming co-operative concerns in respect of these employees. I also do not think it would be fair to ask those who will acquire the creameries to take over other employees if they have not sufficient work for them. I think it would be a State obligation and also an obligation on their employers to provide pensions for those who cannot find other work. Large numbers of people are getting big pensions in this country who did not do as effective work or give as faithful service to the State as those to whom I am referring. I appeal to the Minister to consider that matter.
I know that objections have been raised in some areas by suppliers of proprietary creameries. I think that that is a short-sighted attitude. When the co-operative movement was started by the late Sir Horace Plunkett and his Party it was hailed as a great blessing. The movement, as well as the work it has done since, have proved successful. At present co-operative societies should get all the encouragement that it is possible to give them. I believe that the time is ripe for the Dairy Disposals Board to see where creameries are functioning, that they are taken over by co-operative concerns. If that were done, when this Bill becomes law, it would be an incentive to the people to work and to take an interest in their own business. When working for others people take less interest in an industry and, as Deputy Dillon stated, they would not then have any knowledge of how to work concerns when they became owners. If the Dairy Disposals Board and the I.A.O.S. moved in that direction, it would be a help. This Bill is introduced in the interests of milk producers and I am satisfied that that is a step in the right direction. I welcome the Bill and I am going to support it.
I wish to support the Bill and the proposals embodied in it. I am hoping that as a result this is the last act in the way of clearing the decks for a big move forward in the dairy industry. I realise the importance of the industry to the country and to the agricultural community. Until all creameries are brought within the co-operative movement I believe it will not be possible to develop the industry to the utmost. For the betterment of the industry and also of the creamery business it is best to have it in the hands of co-operative societies. If it were to be organised on a proper basis I believe that some form of central control would be needed. That may not be possible under this Bill, but when the Dairy Disposals Board takes control I see no reason why there should not be a regrouping of all the big co-operative societies. When we reach that stage, that is the time to get the co-operative movement under central control. I wish to support the appeal on behalf of the employees made by various Deputies that some provision should be made for them. I am aware that the Dairy Disposals Board treated redundant employees decently in the past. That happened convenient to where I reside. I would feel happier if provision could be embodied in this Bill to cover any hardship that the employees may suffer by losing their employment.
I wish to pay a tribute to the work of the Dairy Disposals Board. I had an opportunity of seeing work done by the board in a small district in North Cork, where I can safely say it was responsible for getting a large number of farmers out of serious financial difficulties caused by the overlapping of creameries. At the same time, I do not like to see the Dairy Disposals Board adopting the attitude of the churchyard——taking all in and giving nothing out. There was an outstanding case of that kind in North Cork, where we had a group of creameries, one central and six auxiliaries, taken over by the board in 1927. That group, to my mind, is an economic group. Negotiations are going on for the purchase of that particular group for the past four years.
Did they get it?
They have not got it yet. The buildings are of a very poor type. Out of the seven buildings, five of the auxiliary creameries are composed of structures of timber and iron. The peak supply of milk in 1937 was something like 17,222 gallons. When the negotiations started for the purchase of these creameries by the suppliers who formed themselves into a co-operative society with the intention of purchasing and working the creameries in the interests of the farmers, the price of £19,000 asked by the Dairy Disposals Board was enormous, when we take into account that in 1928 or 1929 two competent independent valuers valued the creameries in that district at £11,500. The first bid made by the farmers was £12,000. Subsequent to that the Dairy Disposals Board reduced their demand to £17,500 and the farmers made the pretty decent offer of £16,000. Personally, I think that anything more than that is an excessive price, and I believe the farmers there are making an honest effort to give the full value of these creameries to the Dairy Disposals Board. I am aware that the Minister is sympathetically disposed, but apparently other Departments are not so well disposed. Therefore, the only thing I can do is to ask the Minister to keep up the pressure, and if possible try to clinch this bargain for the farmers who were so plucky as to bid this sum. It is a pretty huge sum for a farming community. It is a big debt repayable over eight years at 5½ per cent. interest. But, in my opinion, until the farmers in that particular area can take over those creameries they will not get the best out of the dairying industry. I hope that the fact of drawing public attention to the matter in this House will at least have the effect of removing what is locally considered to be a grievance.
I think that in the last 15 or 16 years the co-operative movement so far as the creameries are concerned, has justified itself. Deputy O'Donovan referred to the small percentage of creameries that failed since the co-operative movement started. I cannot recall one to mind. So far as my knowledge of the creamery industry in the large dairying county of Limerick is concerned, the co-operative creameries have worked efficiently. They made the most of the supplies given to them, marketed their commodities to the best advantage and gave the farmers every satisfaction. So far as this Bill will help to extend the co-operative movement, I am completely in favour of it.
I do not intend to go outside the scope of the Bill, which is a Bill to acquire certain proprietary creameries. One might be tempted to indulge in an extension of the debate, as Deputy Dillon deliberately did, and discuss the whole creamery industry from start to finish. I think we will have other occasions to do that. I was glad, however, to hear the final pronouncement of Deputy Dillon, which was so forcibly made—I hope other Deputies will make it as forcibly—that the industry is such a one that it cannot be let down, that it must be somehow continued, as it is essential to our agricultural industry.
I do not intend to criticise any of the bodies concerned—either the Dairy Disposals Board or the proprietary creameries which will be affected. So far as I am aware, they have all faced up to their business fairly well. The proprietary creameries, I believe, are carrying on their business in a very fair way. As a co-operator and as one who wants to see an extension of the co-operative movement, I am in favour of the Bill so far as the acquisition of outside creameries is concerned. As regards the Dairy Disposals Board, they were put in a very difficult position 15 or 16 years ago. I do not believe that any other body of men entrusted with the job could have done it better. I recognise, as I am sure very many Deputies recognise, the difficulties of the job given to these men. I never expected that they would be able, at any given date, to show a clean sheet. It would have been impossible in the conditions under which they were set up. But they have served the community in a very fair way and in an extensive way.
Without in any way criticising the Dairy Disposals Board, I should like to get from the Minister a clear indication of what the future policy of the Government will be in regard to the dairying industry, whether we are to have a continuance of what I might call the reluctance on the part of the Dairy Disposals Board or of somebody else to part with creameries already acquired, and perhaps be faced with the same reluctance in regard to the creameries which it is proposed to acquire now.
For 15 years the Dairy Disposals Board have held a considerable number of creameries. For years I do not think any one of these creameries has been passed on to the farmers to carry on as a co-operative concern. There may be reasons for that, but I do not think the House has ever been given a clear indication of what these particular reasons were; whether the farmers were not willing to acquire the creameries, whether the Dairy Disposals Board were not prepared to give any particular group of creamery suppliers, who wanted to take over a creamery, full particulars of the profit or loss on the particular creamery, or whether the principle generally was to keep the concerns going as they are at the present time. Anyhow the fact remains that the board do hold a very considerable number of creameries. There would be an excuse, so far as one part of the activities of the board is concerned, that is, what one might call the condensed milk industry. That and one or two other items of their activities are more in the nature of a business occupation outside the ordinary work of creameries generally. As far as that group is concerned, there might have been difficulties in getting farmers to take over but as regards several other creameries there were, to my mind, no great obstacles in the way of the ordinary farmers taking over. Some of us have found it almost impossible to conceive why some of these creameries were not already passed on. I move the adjournment of the debate.