Committee on Finance. - Milk (Regulation of Supply and Price) (Amendment) Bill, 1967: Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The purpose of this short Bill is to enable the election of members of the Dublin District Milk Board to be held in 1968 instead of in 1967 as required under existing legislation. The Milk (Regulation of Supply and Price) Act, 1936, provides that an election of members of a milk board must take place every third year. An election of members of the Dublin Board is due this year but in view of the situation arising from the outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in Britain it is most desirable that this election should not now be held.

In the past elections of members of milk boards were conducted by postal ballot. This, to my mind, is not a satisfactory system for such elections, because secrecy cannot be assured in all cases and also because there is a possibility of abuse. For example, there is a risk that some ballot papers may be used by persons other than those entitled to vote. Accordingly, before the foot and mouth disease outbreaks in Britain had created a major crisis for us, I had arranged for a change in the election system so that in future voting for members of milk boards would take place by secret ballot at special polling stations to be provided for the purpose by the board concerned. I might say here that I am looking into the question of making a similar change in the election of members of An Bord Bainne.

In view of the foot and mouth disease emergency, it is most important that the congregation of voters at rural polling stations should be avoided at present, and accordingly that the election for the Dublin Board should not be held until next year. Section 1 of the Bill, which provides for this, will not affect subsequent elections to the Dublin Board and these will, therefore, take place in 1970 and each third year thereafter. Also, it will not affect elections to the Cork District Milk Board which is the only other board established under that Act. An election to that Board is not due to be held until next year.

The saver provided for in Section 3 of the Bill is required because of legal doubts as to whether the power under the 1936 Act to make an order appointing an election day automatically includes power to revoke such an order. Section 3 of the Bill will remove any such doubts in respect of the recent order revoking the 1967 election day order for the Dublin Board.

I now commend the Bill to the House and ask that it be given a Second Reading.

The real reason for the Bill, as the Minister says, is precautionary, in case we would be unfortunate enough to have foot and mouth disease introduced into this country. It is a necessary and desirable precaution to ensure that all contacts, as far as possible, as between farms and farmers are avoided wherever possible. This is one precaution that is eminently desirable and deserving of the support of everybody in the House.

The Minister has stated that when this election is held it is desirable that it should not be a postal vote election. The elections in which postal votes have taken place in the past have shown themselves, as the Minister rightly says, to be unsatisfactory. For this election, therefore, proper booths should be set up in convenient centres at which those concerned may attend personally to register their votes and the election should be conducted in a proper and safe manner. It is only right that these precautions should be taken in what I consider a very important election indeed and the arrangements made, therefore, should be such as would have due regard to the importance of the board to be elected, the importance of the work that board will be expected to discharge and the importance of the responsibilities the board will be expected to undertake. The responsibilities of this board are increasing with every year that passes. The members of the board are responsible for the sale and disposal of milk over a very large area, an area in which milk production is increasing every year, an area in which we have now reached the point of having a surplus of 5,000,000 gallons, a surplus for which the producers get the very poor price of 2/2d a gallon approximately.

I mention these things to emphasise the importance of the election and the importance of ensuring that it is carried out in a proper manner. This surplus milk has to be disposed of, as I said, at 2/2d per gallon, and that in relation to producers who are engaged all the year round in the production of milk. Because they are so engaged their expenses are extremely high. The liquid milk producers are, unlike producers in the creamery areas, denied the subsidy paid in creamery areas of approximately 6d per gallon. I do not for one moment think that the producers in the creamery areas are getting too much for their milk; I think they are getting too little. This incoming board will have the responsibility of bringing to the Minister's attention the good reasons that exist for increasing the price of milk in the liquid milk producing areas. If an increase is not given I do not think they will be able to go on producing milk. In the creamery areas the milk is produced seasonally in the flush grass period and the producers in those areas are not involved in anything like the same expense as the liquid milk producers are. Devaluation will cause further difficulty. It will increase the cost of winter feed because of the increased cost of imported protein in particular.

This proposal on the part of the Minister is just one additional precaution. Indeed, many people feel that, while he has gone a long way to meet the very grave situation with which we are confronted, he has not gone far enough and that additional precautions should, in fact, be taken. I hope the Minister will see his way to taking these precautions. If he considers it sufficiently important to bring in this Bill to prevent farmers from coming together in order to elect a milk board, then I am afraid that some of the precautions taken by the Minister in other directions will not meet the situation to the extent he apparently believes they will. I refer to the restriction on the movement of cattle from marts, etc. I think we will now have farmers and dealers visiting farms and farmers all over the country, picking up animals, with a consequent dangerous spread of possible contacts. We all hope we shall be spared the scourge of foot and mouth, but today I gave an instance to the Minister of the dangers that exist. I told of a man attending a funeral in England from the North of Ireland and coming back through Aughnacloy; no one asked him to disinfect; no one asked him where he came from or what precautions he had taken. He himself complained that this was the case; it was not someone trying to escape notice. He was quite disappointed to find it was possible for him to come back in this way.

We have, too, people in England complaining that, while approximately half are voluntarily undertaking the sacrifice of not returning home for Christmas, the other half are coming home. In the last couple of days we had a priest in England saying it was time to stop the fooling and give up depending on the willing co-operation of the people; it just will not come. Those who are co-operating are disappointed that the Minister has not gone further and decided to close the ports for a couple of weeks against incoming passenger traffic. Closure would not involve any loss of employment because merchandise would continue to come in and continue to be properly disinfected on entry.

I know this is not a discussion on foot and mouth disease but the reason for the Bill is the existence of foot and mouth disease in England. The Bill is necessary and desirable. Indeed, any measure taken by the Minister deserves the fullest support of every Member of the House, of every citizen of this State, and of every person entering the country. The disease is widespread and the concern is equally widespread. The concern is tantamount almost to panic. It is not confined to the farming community, who would be directly affected, but it is also evident in the cities and towns. Thinking people realise that in the last analysis the prosperity and welfare of the industrial and commercial sectors of our economy depend on the state of Irish agriculture. It is because of that that they are concerned about the spread of foot and mouth disease. We are getting a great deal of co-operation but we cannot depend on the unscrupulous, the selfish and the "couldn't-careless". We will always have them with us. No country is without them. These are the people against whom we should feel compelled to take every necessary step to safeguard our own position. The Border appears to be wide open. I believe the time has come for bringing out the Army to safeguard the Border.

There is a certain vagueness in the Bill itself which I do not particularly like. The Minister does not attempt to tell us even roughly when the election will take place. I should like to feel that the election will not be indefinitely postponed, certainly not postponed longer than is necessary. If we pass the Bill the Minister will be free to postpone the election until 30th December, 1968, irrespective of whether or not the dangers of foot and mouth disease have completely disappeared. I should like to hear the Minister saying that it is his intention to hold these elections at the earliest possible date and that that date will be as soon as possible after the lifting of the restrictions imposed because of the foot and mouth disease.

There are a couple of matters here on which I should like to comment briefly lest they might be taken up and misunderstood. The question of the disposal of the surplus milk in the Dublin area is being gone into by the board and the solution may well be through creameries to be processed by the creameries or milk processing plants near the fringe of the Dublin supply area. It is not correct to say, if Deputy Clinton intended to, that the Government support for milk is not being passed on to these people in regard to the disposal of this surplus. It is being passed on and the creameries and other people involved have the advantage of it.

Why are they only able to get 2s 2d a gallon as against 2s 7d in other areas?

That is quite different. You might as well ask why certain co-operatives pay so much and other co-operatives pay less. This is something which puzzles me. The Government support for milk is and will continue to be available to the Dublin Milk Board area suppliers in regard to the disposal of their surplus to the creameries and to the milk processing plants. So far as the delayed election is concerned it is, without question, intended to hold it as soon as possible after it is evident that the danger of foot and mouth disease has passed. Further than that, I am sure the Deputy and the House are fully aware, I am scarcely able to go because to try to tie it down definitely would be well-nigh impossible. I had fixed the date by order for the 14th of this month and I have rescinded that. I feel sure the House will be satisfied that the true intention is to have the election after the dangers of the foot and mouth disease have passed.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.