I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. This Bill has for its main object the granting to milk boards of the power to use their funds to operate schemes designed to encourage increased production of milk in their areas. The Act of 1936 empowers milk boards to use their funds, with the consent of the Minister for Agriculture, to contribute towards schemes for the encouragement of increased utilisation of milk but not production. A typical scheme which was operated from time to time under the existing powers was the "Drink More Milk" campaign of the Dublin District Milk Board which aimed at stimulating increased consumption of milk. In view of the difficulty of maintaining at all times of the year adequate supplies of milk in milk board areas, experience has shown that it is desirable that boards should be allowed to use their funds, with ministerial approval, to contribute to schemes to encourage increased milk production in milk board areas. These schemes should include an artificial insemination service, milk recording, soil testing and veterinary facilities, but it would, of course, be open to boards, if they thought fit, to design other beneficial schemes.
The most advantageous of these schemes would be that relating to artificial insemination. It is intended that the two existing milk boards—at Dublin and Cork—will, on enactment of this Bill, establish sub-centres to two of the existing main artificial insemination stations, providing the necessary capital and running expenses. Both of the main stations in question are run by the Department of Agriculture; one at Grange, County Meath, and one at Clonakilty Agricultural School, and the semen for insemination would be obtained from them. An adequate artificial insemination service in the area of the Dublin Board would involve about four sub-centres to the existing main station at Grange, and in the Cork Board area one sub-centre to the station at Clonakilty.
The Dublin board already arrange, with the co-operation of the Department of Agriculture, a certain amount of service for producers by way of soil testing, silage demonstrations, etc., but such services cannot be put on a proper basis and fully developed without statutory authority. The Bill will enable the board to meet the cost of these and other such services out of its own funds and to expand or intensify them if the need arises. It is also envisaged that the board may, in time, undertake the provision of milk recording and veterinary facilities for milk producers as a further contribution towards increased and more efficient methods of milk production.
The funds of milk boards are derived solely from levies on sales of milk for liquid consumption in their sale areas and the utilisation of these funds for the purpose of stimulating milk production would undoubtedly be to the advantage of producer and consumer alike.
While, as I already mentioned, the foregoing is the main purpose of the Bill, the opportunity is being taken of embodying in permanent legislation certain provisions already being operated for many years past by means of Emergency Powers Orders. One of these is the power of the Dublin District Milk Board to regulate the supply of creamery milk to Dublin so that such milk may be utilised to the best advantage over the year. Another such provision which is incorporated in the Bill is that under which creameries supplying milk to a milk board area are relieved of the obligation imposed by the main Act of entering into yearly contracts. The quantity of milk required from creameries varies from time to time and it is, therefore, not practicable for creameries to make long-term contracts for such milk.
Another provision of the Bill to which attention might be called is that relating to highest grade milk. Milk boards have already power to license the purchase by wholesalers and retailers of highest grade milk from producers who reside outside the area from which milk supplies can normally be drawn. Such licences, however, can at present only relate to specific quantities of milk at specific periods and it is proposed to extend this power to enable licences to be granted without limitation as to quantity or period. The purpose of this is to give certain producers of highest grade milk a measure of permanency of supply and, in the interests of public health, to encourage them to continue and expand production of such milk.
Another provision at present in Emergency Powers Orders which is being transferred to the Bill is the power of the Dublin District Milk Board to engage, with the Minister's consent, in the buying and selling of milk and the laying in of reserve stocks of condensed and dried milk. The object of the provision is to enable milk boards to deal adequately with acute surpluses or shortages of milk. Such powers are necessary from the point of view of both producer and consumer alike. The Dublin Board has had these powers under Emergency Powers Orders since 1942 and has on many occasions in the past applied for and received the consent of the Minister to utilise the powers for specified periods and, in fact, as recently as last Thursday has written to me again for permission to utilise the powers. The Cork District Milk Board passed unanimously a resolution in 1948 asking for similar powers and on 28th January last again wrote asking me to use my good offices towards ensuring priority in this House for all stages of this Bill in its present form, which, in the board's view, would enable the best handling of the Cork milk supply problem.
Notwithstanding these direct requests from the two milk boards, it has been suggested that the provisions of the Bill to which I have just referred have either been completely misunderstood or deliberately misinterpreted in certain quarters. Also, in the course of the debate on the Bill in the Seanad, this provision was opposed by some Senators who purported to represent the views of milk producers generally. It was alleged that the powers being given to the boards were much too wide and could be used by a board to combat, for example, a strike of milk producers. As I have already mentioned, the Dublin Board has had these powers for the past ten years and the Cork Board asked for them four years ago. Milk boards are democratically elected and the producers have the majority representation on them. For this reason, it would be impossible for the powers in question to be used to the detriment of producers. In point of fact, the powers could be very much to their advantage in periods of surplus. Furthermore, the necessity of having to obtain the Minister's consent provides a final safeguard against any action being taken which might react against the interests of milk producers generally.
I might also mention that the tribunal of inquiry into the milk supply for the Dublin sale district in the report which it furnished in 1945 recommended that the Dublin District Milk Board should have, in addition to the powers conferred on it by the Acts of 1936 and 1941, all the powers which were conferred by Emergency Powers (No. 247) Order, 1942, and such other powers as might be necessary to enable it to organise and direct effectively the production, distribution and sale of milk in its area. I trust, therefore, that Deputies in approaching this Bill will have these facts in mind and will realise that it is fundamentally a non-controversial measure, requested by producers and sponsored by the previous Administration as well as the present Government.