I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".
Co-operative dairy societies, often known as creameries, are industrial and provident societies, that is, societies which are registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, 1893. Section 53 of that Act provides that two or more industrial and provident societies may amalgamate by passing a special resolution. Under paragraph (a) of section 51 of the Act, a special resolution must be passed at a general meeting by not less than three-fourths of the members who vote, and under paragraph (b) of that section, the resolution must be confirmed at a subsequent general meeting by a majority of the members voting. Voting in either case may be in person or by proxy.
The purpose of this Bill is to amend section 51 (a) of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, 1893, to enable the passing of a special resolution for the amalgamation of co-operative dairy societies by a simple majority instead of by a minimum three-fourths majority as at present. The amendment was proposed by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, and I am sponsoring the amendment as I am responsible for administration of the Acts dealing with industrial and provident societies.
As indicated in the Third Programme for Economic and Social Development, the rationalisation and diversification of the creamery and milk processing industry is regarded by the Government as an essential and urgent objective of agricultural policy. The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries has stated that, although some amalgamations of co-operative dairy societies have taken place over the past few years in furtherance of this policy objective, progress in this direction has been much slower than had been hoped for and than is now especially called for with the prospect of early accession to the European Economic Community. At meetings which he had with the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society Limited and with other farming organisations, it had been strongly represented to him that the passing of a resolution for amalgamation by the required minimum three-fourths majority had proved a serious retarding factor in the amalgamation of co-operative dairy societies and in the rationalisation of the creamery industry. I understand that these organisations support the proposed change to a simple majority requirement.
The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries has informed me that he is convinced of the force of the arguments made by the farming organisations. Numerous instances have come to his notice where resolutions for amalgamation, although supported by a substantial majority of members at meetings, have failed to become effective because of the three-fourths majority requirement. These instances have been notable particularly in Kilkenny and in the Golden Vale area of County Limerick and North Cork. It would be only in an exceptional case that all members of a co-operative dairy society would derive their living solely or mainly from farming. Consequently, it is in some cases a relatively easy matter to secure 25 per cent support, on a variety of personal grounds, for an opposition motion to an amalgamation resolution. The result is that the real economic interests of the majority of members of such societies are thwarted and measures calculated to further Government policy and agricultural development are negatived.
I support the view of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries that, in so far as co-operative dairy societies are concerned, it is urgently necessary that the requirements of section 51 (a) of the Act of 1893 should be amended to enable a resolution for amalgamation to be passed by a simple majority.
I wish to emphasise that the proposed amendment will not alter, in any way, the existing requirement for a confirmatory resolution as set out in paragraph (b) of section 51 of the Act, and it will not affect any other matters which, under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, require the passing of a special resolution. For example, the amalgamation of registered societies, other than co-operative dairy societies, would still require the passing of a special resolution by a minimum three-fourths majority.
I commend this Bill to the House.