Agricultural Produce (Eggs) Bill, 1930—Committee.

The Seanad went into Committee.
Sections 1 to 9 inclusive, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
SECTION 10, SUB-SECTION 3.
Every person who uses or places on any eggs or packages of eggs in contravention of this section any mark prescribed or assigned under Section 15 of the Principal Act shall be guilty of an offence under this section and shall be liable on summary conviction thereof, in the case of a first offence, to a fine not exceeding ten pounds and, in the case of a second or any subsequent offence, to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for any term not exceeding three months or to both such fine and such imprisonment.

I move:—

Section 10, sub-section 3. To delete all after the word "pounds" in line 10 down to the end of the sub-section.

This amendment involves the same principle as a number of others which appear on the Order Paper in my name, and it might be as well to debate all of them together.

Cathaoirleach

The Senator can debate the principle to which he has referred on this amendment, and withdraw the others afterwards if this one is lost.

The amendments deal with the fines which it is proposed to inflict for offences committed by people engaged in the egg trade, or egglers, as they are called. Section 10 deals with the maximum fines to be inflicted on traders for abuses in connection with the identification mark. Each trader has an identification mark of his own. It seems to me rather hard that, for what is to a certain extent an insignificant offence, traders will be liable, on conviction for a second offence, not alone to a fine of £20, but also to imprisonment or both to a fine and imprisonment, if the court so decides. I consider that that is a very humiliating portion of the Bill for egg traders and for people who have implemented the provisions of the original Act and who contributed towards the success it has been. I think that is not meeting these people in the spirit in which they met those responsible for carrying out the provisions of the Act and in which they assisted in making the operations of the Act a success.

This is a trade in which a large amount of employment is given, and it is not possible for the egg trader himself to be at all times present on the premises. He may be taken away from his business to attend to various other things for a lengthy period, but still he is liable for the actions of his employees while he is away. On his return he may find himself in the position of having to face a term of imprisonment for an offence committed by his employees of which he was entirely ignorant. I think it is a great hardship that an eggler should be liable to such punishment. For that reason I think that such a heavy fine should be deleted from the Bill. Furthermore, there are various other means by which it would be possible to penalise an egg trader even more severely. To suspend his licence and put him out of the egg business would be a far greater penalty than a term of imprisonment, and I consider that the suspension of his licence would achieve the object of the Bill in a much better way than the term of imprisonment. As I say, imprisonment is very humiliating, and I do not think that this provision will fulfil the purpose which it is intended to fulfil.

I think the Minister ought to accept the amendment for the reason stated by Senator MacEllin. Senator MacEllin told us last evening that in County Mayo they had developed the egg trade to the extent of £600,000 per annum. That is the result of the efforts of the large merchants and the smaller people, too, who co-operated and produced this magnificent result. As the Senator stated, these are people who should not be penalised in respect of an offence which might not be an intentional offence at all, and who should not be placed in the same category as common "drunks" for breaches of the regulations. Here is what the section states:

"Every person who uses or places on any eggs or packages of eggs in contravention of this section any mark prescribed or assigned under Section 15 of the Principal Act shall be guilty of an offence under this section and shall be liable on summary conviction thereof, in the case of a first offence, to a fine not exceeding ten pounds, and in the case of a second or any subsequent offence to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds."

Here is what Senator MacEllin wants struckout: "Or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for any term not exceeding three months or to both such fine and such imprisonment." Senator MacEllin said what I believe to be the law that it will be quite possible under that section for the proprietor of a large business in County Mayo to get imprisonment from the District Justice for an act that would be merely the negligence of one of the fifty or sixty employees in his business. If the section had run in this way: "Every person who fraudulently uses or places on any eggs or packages such a mark," there would be something to be said for it. If a person fraudulently does it, certainly give him imprisonment, but if it is done negligently by the servants of a great employer, I submit to this House that the employer ought not to be liable to imprisonment whatever he may be liable to in the shape of a fine. There is too much altogether of what I might call the penal frame of mind in dealing with sea fisheries, agriculture, eggs and things like that. There was a Bill the other day in which for the breach of a civil contract a provision was made that a person should be sent to prison. I am glad to see that it was deleted in the Dáil and that we are saved the trouble of endeavouring to delete it here. The same thing is running through this section as it is framed. I suggest that the Minister ought to do one of two things He ought either to accept the amendment of Senator MacEllin, and I think that would be the best thing to do——

Cathaoirleach

Do not discuss the other alternative, because we have no amendment to that effect.

Surely I am entitled to discuss it in this way seeing that the Minister has not put in the word "fraudulently" at the beginning of the section.

Cathaoirleach

You have no amendment to put in the word "fraudulently."

No, I use it as an argument seeing that the section as framed deals with cases of what might be the mere act of negligence of a servant. I think the Minister ought to accept the amendment of Senator MacEllin and delete the imprisonment. I think Senator MacEllin has made his case, and very concisely.

I think the less of this sort of punishment for civil offences, ordinary negligence and things of that sort the better. Threatening with imprisonment, shooting and everything else has been too much the fashion in this country for the last few years.

I would like to subscribe to what Senator MacEllin has argued for, but I do not think he has made a case sufficiently clear because, as I read this, it obviously must be a case of fraud. It is placing upon the package or the eggs a mark for a definite purpose to deceive the buyer. It is the second and subsequent offences that make imprisonment possible. Therefore it must be obviously done for the purpose of fraud or deceit.

Certainly not.

I cannot see how it would be done otherwise; perhaps the Minister would explain.

I do not agree at all with the Senator that this offence is less serious than what he calls common drunkenness. I think common drunkenness is much less serious. I think it is a shame to give a man who is drunk-quite a human sort of weakness, and often quite inadvertent—jail, and to allow a man who steals a large sum of money, in a respectable way, off with a fine. I think our standards are all wrong in this regard. If a man going down a street lifts a package of eggs he will get jail. If a big trader with a turnover of from £30,000 to £40,000 makes £1,000 to £3,000, as he might make it by persistently breaking the regulations, he is not to be put to the indignity of going to jail. I think he should be rammed into jail with the "political prisoners" and kept there. I think that the man who goes into a shop hungry and steals a pound of butter has a far better case in law and morals than this big trader who persistently breaks the regulations and puts anything from £100 to £1,000 into his pocket at the expense of the honest trader. I think we have all the equities, whatever about the law, of this case.

Of course, as Senator Johnson pointed out, it is only for a second offence, and it is at the discretion of the court. I draw the attention of Senators to the fact that a similar amendment was put down to a number of other sections. There are seven amendments of the same character put down by Senator MacEllin to different sections. All these sections deal with offences against the Act, and if these amendments are carried what can happen? Remember the egg trader, the eggler, to use an expression that is usual, is in no small way of business. In towns in the West, like Tuam and Ballina, most of the business men do the biggest part of their trade in eggs. The turnover of a big man would be something like £20,000 a year and of a small man something like £5,000 and £10,000 a year. Senators will see that if a trader persistently breaks the regulations he can make good money out of it at the expense of the traders who do not. Suppose eggs are described as "extra selected" and half are good and half are bad and you get the "extra selected" price. That is done persistently by traders who deal with houses on the other side. Look at all the money a dishonest trader can make! Why should he not go to jail? Our standards in this are all wrong. A man who goes into a shop, steals one egg, and on coming out is caught by a policeman is rammed into jail, whereas a trader who persistently makes money by breaking this regulation is a respectable man and it is a disgrace to put him into jail. I do not think it is. I think he ought to go to jail quicker than the poor man who when passing a shop steals an egg. I have not the slightest hesitation in asking the Seanad to insist on a man who persistently and flagrantly breaks these regulations going to jail. He is a common thief, a respectable thief if you like, but a common thief, and should go to jail. There is not the slightest danger that the law will be unjustly administered.

Senator MacEllin suggests that such a man can be removed from the registration scheme, and says it is a more serious sentence. It may be a more serious sentence. The Minister can do that. It is no disgrace. But he cannot impose a fine. That must be done by a District Justice, and the District Justice cannot impose anything except a fine for a first offence. It is only for a second, a third or a fourth offence that he can impose imprisonment, and he has the option of imposing a fine. He will hear the case in open court. He will be the best judge as to whether or not it is an inadvertence, but in 999 cases out of 1,000 where the wrong mark is put on a box it is fraudulently done. The District Justice is supposed to have common sense, and he can use his discretion. He will hear both sides; he will hear that it is done by an employee, if in fact it was done by an employee. The owner of the premises can come forward and prove that it was done without his knowledge. If he is in a position to do so, he can bring forward any other evidence to show it was inadvertently done, and the District Justice can exercise his discretion in a merciful way. The penalty will be imposed in open court by a Justice after hearing both sides, and not until then. I suggest that that gives absolute security to the exporter, and I would ask the Seanad to leave this provision in. I see people getting jail for a number of offences for which possibly they deserved to get jail, but I would like to see an odd exporter who is making a lot of money out of defrauding the State, who has no civic sense, and is breaking these regulations persistently, getting jail. I do not believe they will. The real trouble is that no one will get jail in this way. We had similar penalties under the original Act and nobody that I know of got jail. I think the real danger is that the District Justices generally will take a lenient view of the man with a collar and tie, who is in a big way of business, and will not send him to jail. But I hope that somebody who deserves to get jail under this Bill will get it. I think then we will have a more wholesome public spirit.

I am in absolute agreement with the Minister as far as the man who persistently breaks the law is concerned, but if a man is persistently breaking the law it will undoubtedly affect his own business, and he will not be long in business.

I do not agree.

In any case I think the people generally have dealt with the regulations in the proper spirit, and regard should be had to that in framing new regulations. I think it is unfair to make it possible for this thing to happen, particularly when you are in a position to put a man out of business if he commits offences against the Act.

What is a fine of £20 to a man in a big way of business who is persistently making money out of breaking the regulations?

A fine is nothing, the suspension of his licence would be far more serious than imprisonment. For that reason, I think this provision should be deleted. If you want to impose a severe penalty you can suspend a man's licence and put him out of business.

Amendment put and, on a show of hands, declared lost.
Section 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Amendment 2, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 11, 12, 13 and 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The following amendment stood in the name of Senator MacEllin:—
New section. Before Section 15, to insert a new section, as follows:
"15 (1). It shall not be lawful for any person trading in eggs to use a vehicle employed by him in the collection and transport of eggs for the collection or transport of other goods or materials.
"(2). Motor vehicles used exclusively for the collection and transport of eggs shall be exempt from tax."

Cathaoirleach

I have to rule the second part of the amendment out of order, as it is outside the scope of the Bill.

The first part of the amendment would not have much effect if the second part were not agreed to.

Cathaoirleach

I must ask you to move the first portion alone.

I will move the first portion of it, but under protest, as it is not fulfilling my purpose.

Cathaoirleach

I am sure the House will allow you to withdraw the first portion if you so desire.

I move the first portion of the amendment for the purpose of discussion and nothing else. The handling of eggs in the towns is different from the handling of eggs in country districts. Sometimes eggs collected in the country are mixed up with other goods and materials, and I believe that does not tend to efficiency. The handling of eggs with many people is a side issue and they do not give the matter the attention it ought to get. The mixing of eggs with other goods is liable to have a bad effect and ultimately will injure the export trade. The best prices for eggs are paid by people who are confined to the egg trade. They have nothing to do with any other business and they are able to give more attention to the trade. I believe that our ultimate object ought to be to confine this trade to egglers. They will know their business; they will comply with the regulations and ultimately will be able to give better prices to the producers.

Another aspect of this matter is that there are what I consider to be severe regulations as regards the buildings that have to be put up in the towns in order to comply with the requirements of the Act. It seems to me that those regulations for the buildings in the towns are superfluous. I think the same principle is not applied to the handling of eggs in the countryside.

Only a few weeks ago a case came under my notice where an egg dealer had to put up a new building in order to comply with the requirements of the Act. He laid the foundations and intended that the new building should be in line with the old building. As, in those circumstances, it would be one foot narrower than the space required by the regulations, an inspector who came down condemned the new building. The result was that the new building had to be erected in a manner which put it altogether out of line with the old building. I think that is a rather peculiar interpretation of the Act. If it was considered necessary to condemn the proposed new building because it happened to be one foot narrower than the space required under the Act, then, in my opinion, it ought to be just as important to take steps to control those who handle eggs through the countryside. In some places, in my opinion, the Act is being interpreted in too severe a manner. If such a severe interpretation of the Act is necessary in the towns, it ought to be equally necessary in the countryside.

I think the Minister should give attention to this matter concerning the erection of buildings in towns. In the case I have mentioned it was too bad, I think, that the person concerned should have been prohibited, for the slight reason given, from erecting the new building in line with the old one. As a result of the severe interpretation of the Act a number of people in the towns who have not been able to put up buildings to comply with the regulations have been put out of business altogether. I would ask the Minister to reconsider these cases, and thereby give to many of these poor people an opportunity of getting into business again. People, at the outset, were allowed to carry on business in buildings which are not now approved of. I think that is a matter the Minister should look into.

The remarks made by the mover of the amendment seem to have a good deal of commonsense in them. There are many restrictions in the Act with regard to premises. Of course, it is well known that eggs can be damaged just as much in the course of transport as they can be on the premises in which they are handled. The amendment, however, appears to me to be too drastic and far reaching because it proposes that eggs should only be transported in vehicles that are not used for any other purpose. It might prove uneconomical for people engaged in the trade if they were restricted in the use of their vehicles for that purpose only. If the Senator were to bring up a milder amendment, one proposing that reasonable care and cleanliness should be exercised in the case of vehicles employed in the transport of eggs, I would be inclined to support it, but I think that the principle in the amendment before the House goes too far.

The Minister last evening provided the strongest argument that could be used in favour of the amendment because he told us—I was very much surprised to hear it—that, amongst other things, eggs can be contaminated by onions. They can also be contaminated by petrol, by fertilisers and artificial manures, which are usually carried in carts. Very stringent regulations have been imposed, and justly imposed, with regard to the segregation and care of eggs in stores. What the amendment proposes is that that these same regulations should be extended to the collecting vehicles which, as we know, are frequently used for the carriage of petrol and other things that will contaminate eggs. I think I am rightly informed when I say that eggs are frequently in the motor cars for a much longer time than they are in the stores. If that is true, then it adds greater force to the arguments put forward in support of this amendment by Senator MacEllin. The subject that we are discussing is a very important one. It is becoming more important every day, and it is a great advantage to the Seanad that we have the opportunity of hearing a man take part in that discussion who really knows his business and has made a great success of it.

I agree that Senator MacEllin knows his business from start to finish. Before dealing with the amendment, I just want to refer to the point that was raised by Senator Bagwell and to inform him that we have in operation regulations dealing with it. These regulations were issued under the original Act passed in 1924. One of them provides:

The eggs shall be adequately protected from wet, damp, dirt or contamination during the course of transport or packing.

Another regulation provides.

Packages of eggs in course of transport shall at all times be adequately protected from adverse weather conditions and from contamination of any sort.

So that we have already in existence regulations which enable us, if we have sufficient officials—we are now pressing into the service Civic Guards —to see that eggs in course of transport are properly handled. With regard to Senator MacEllin's amendment, Senators will remember that there are four parties interested in this. The first is the consumer. It is in the interest of the consumer that all these Acts have been passed and regulations made. Secondly, there is the exporter, beginning from the consumer's end; thirdly, there is the collector, and lastly there is the farmer. The object of the Acts and regulations passed and made up to the present has been to regulate the eggs while they are passing to and from the exporter's premises. Senator MacEllin says that we should go further and control the collectors. If we could do that it would be excellent, but, of course, there are limits to what you can do and limits to the control that you can impose. There is no point in pretending that you are controlling if the control is not effective. If we were to control the collectors it has to be remembered that we would then have to control at least four times as many persons as we are at the moment controlling under our export sections.

It would be quite simple to insert some provision here making regulations as to the sort of lorries—motor and horse drawn—that should be used in the collection of eggs, dealing with the size of the lorries, their state of cleanliness and so on, but the question would then arise: how are you going to enforce the regulations? To start with, if you made such regulations it would mean doubling the number of inspectors that we have. The Civic Guards could not do it effectively. I think I have made an under-statement in saying that we would have to double the number of inspectors because you have twice as many collectors as you have exporters. In my opinion you have far too many of them, but if such regulations were there then you would have to follow those collectors from place to place. Therefore, I think I am under-stating when I say that if the collectors were to be controlled effectively we would have to employ at least twice as many inspectors as we have at present. The Senator has a rough and ready way and, if you like, an effective way of doing that. He suggests that we should accept this amendment which reads:—

It shall not be lawful for any person trading in eggs to use a vehicle employed by him in the collection and transport of eggs for the collection or transport of other goods or materials.

The amendment is, I think, too drastic. It has to be remembered that the collectors of eggs do, in addition, a general business. They sell goods to the farmer and buy from him. They buy eggs from the farmer as part of the price of the goods they sell to him. If the Seanad is prepared to accept an amendment of this sort, they must be prepared not only to enter a new field and attempt something that the Seanad has not attempted previously, but they must also be prepared to dislocate trade very seriously indeed. As Senator MacEllin pointed out, there are far too many collectors, but they are all making a living of one kind or another. There must be some sort of need for them or they would not be there. They are engaged in a legitimate trade. This amendment, if accepted, would reduce them to less than one-fourth of their present number. I should say that not one in fifty of them could afford to keep a lorry on the road for the mere purpose of collecting eggs. I doubt if it would be economical for them to do so. What would happen if the amendment were accepted is that the exporters would collect the eggs.

Would the Minister say that people under the Act are in a position to give a better price than people who are in a mixed trade?

I doubt it. If they were they would be doing so. Those people do a trade in tea, sugar and bacon, and they collect eggs. They have their part in commerce, and it pays them at present to do that, but if you accept the amendment you would put them all out of business. Nobody can afford to collect eggs and take them in to an exporter. I think the effect of the amendment would be to give the collection of eggs to the exporters. I doubt if the eggs would be collected economically that way. It would hardly pay an exporter to send out a lorry on a journey of from 15 to 40 miles merely for the purpose of collecting eggs in the country.

It does not apply to the farmer, but to the trader.

Surely it applies to the farmer. Surely Senator MacEllin has in mind the man who goes through the country collecting eggs. He goes to the farmer and sells him goods and collects eggs from him.

Does it apply to the farmer who brings in eggs to the market?

It does not apply to him. We are not dealing with him but with quite a useful and usual sort of trade where certain people collect eggs from the farmers' houses, and that particular system is developing more and more. Then you have the travelling shops. Supposing the amendment is passed, then undoubtedly the exporter will have to collect eggs from the farmer. The farmers may bring them in, but if they do they would lose somewhat by doing so. They may be able to get cheap goods from the travelling shop. There may be a lot to be said for and against the travelling shop, but we are not discussing that here. The position is that the farmer will have to bring the eggs in to the exporter, or the exporter will have to send out to the farmer for them, and the exporter cannot afford to send out unless he will get the eggs at a price that would pay him to do so and that will have to come off the price of the eggs. At present, the collector is doing a general trade with the farmer. He calls with his lorry at the door of the farmer and he sells bacon, tea, and so on. There are a number of people who are not exporting eggs doing that at the moment. The Senator is suggesting that trade should be confined to the exporters of eggs, or, in other words, that people who now buy eggs and sell them to the exporters and who, in addition, do a general trade such as selling fertilisers, tea, sugar, bacon, and so on, should be put out of business, and all that is to be handed over to the exporter.

I do not think it is right for the Minister to mislead the Seanad.

Cathaoirleach

The Minister is not misleading. He is only suggesting that that would be the effect of the amendment.

Yes, I am only suggesting that would be the effect. At present there are men not exporters who are selling tea and sugar and buying eggs, and the effect of this amendment would be to put them out of business. They are in a small way. If a regulation were made under which they would have to confine their business to collecting eggs alone they could not afford to trade and would be put out of business. The exporters would get that business. That is inevitable, but I do not say that it is the intention. Perhaps it would be better if they were and to have the business rationalised and a bigger business done, but what guarantee have we that the bigger business that will follow, that the concentration of business in the hands of bigger men would give better results? Possibly it would. Are we seriously, in an Act like this regulating the marketing of eggs, to take a step which will drive out of business the very large number of small but legitimate traders that would be affected by this?

I admit that if the business were handled by the big men it might be handled more efficiently, and it might be no loss if the smaller men were driven out of business. I think there are too many middle-men living out of the farmer. If we casually pass the amendment we would not be able to enforce it and would have to repeal it again. You want to have eggs marketed cleaner and fresher on the other side, and it is suggested that the control should extend from the exporter to the collector. Why not go further and extend it to the farmer? After all, the farmer often keeps eggs too long. He brings them into a dairy and puts them alongside onions and bacon, American or Chinese, or whatever he buys. There is as much case for controlling the farmer as the collector.

I admit for the sake of argument that if you had an ideal Department of Agriculture—I was almost going to say Minister for Agriculture—ideal farmers and ideal conditions, then you might begin to control everybody. Personally, I think you have enough control. I suggest we should confine our control to the exporters and see how that works. I agree with Senator MacEllin that certain hardships take place as a result of the stringent regulations we made as regards exporters' premises. I would be quite willing to investigate the matter to see that exporters are not subject to regulations unless they are essential, and my view of what is essential is based on this. Our regulations for exporters' premises are in force in order to see to it that in these premises eggs can be graded, packed and tested efficiently. We do not want to go any further, but possibly we may have done so in certain cases. The only use of the regulations is to make certain that there are facilities and conveniences in the exporter's premises for efficiently testing, packing and grading eggs. It is with that object, therefore, that the regulations were made. I would be quite willing to see that we make no more regulations than are necessary to effect that particular purpose.

Amendment by leave withdrawn.
Agreed that Sections 15, 16 and 17 stand part of the Bill.
SECTION 18.
Question proposed: "That Section 18 stand part of the Bill."

I move to delete the section. This section declares that it shall not be lawful for any person to carry on by way of trade or gain in premises which are not registered in the register of preservers the business of preserving eggs. It is not clear whether this section applies to farmers. If all premises in which eggs are preserved are to be inspected, I think it would require a large number of new inspectors. I do not think that farmers and others who preserve eggs and sell some of them should be required to have their premises registered. Perhaps the Minister would tell us whether the section applies in such cases?

I have consulted the lawyers and they gave it as their opinion that a farmer who occasionally sells preserved eggs would not be regarded as being in the business of preserving eggs for trade purposes. I have given a few specific cases. The legal advice I got is to the effect that a farmer who occasionally preserves eggs, sometimes for his own use and occasionally, perhaps, for sale, would not be regarded as being in the business of preserving eggs.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I accept the decision that has been come to and, in consequence, I am withdrawing amendments 5 to 9.

Sections 18 to 29, inclusive, agreed to. Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendments.
Report Stage fixed for Friday, 19th December.