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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 12 May 1938

Vol. 21 No. 3

Prices Commission (Extension of Functions) Bill, 1938. - Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Bill, 1938—Committee.

Sections 1 to 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed: "That Section 10 stand part of the Bill."

With regard to paragraph (b) of this section, I should like a little enlightenment from the Minister as to what exactly that paragraph applies. Does it mean that farmers or people living close to the Border can go across the Border and take home a baker's loaf, or two and a half baker's loaves, or to what commodities exactly is this paragraph meant to apply? I think it would be a welcome relief for some of them if that were so.

I should say, perhaps, that this Bill appears a very long measure to deal with a very simple subject, but that is because it re-enacts a great deal of old legislation on the subject. Section 10 is a re-enactment of an old provision. It really relates to a traveller coming into the country who might have a cake or a bun, or it could relate to goods which are sent to a person. It does not relate to a person who shops across the Border. That would be dealt with more in Section 20.

Senator Baxter raised the question of a person who brought in a couple of 2 lb. loaves. The section says that it shall not be lawful for any person to import any commodity in the preparation of which wheat or any product of wheat is used except he is licensed. I should like to ask the Minister if, in the Trade Agreement, the question of bread was envisaged at all, because if it was the intention to issue a licence for the import of bread, say, by bakers' vans coming in from the North of Ireland to enable them to distribute that bread in Border counties, I think very serious consideration should have been given to that matter before that was agreed to. When bread was stopped coming in, particularly over the Border, it was suggested that a large number of new bakeries were being established along the Border. The fact is that the production of bread has gone down very considerably in the country. The last information we have is for 1936, when the production of bread had gone down by the equivalent of 6,000,000 2-lb. loaves. Prior to that there was an import of the equivalent of 12,000,000 2-lb. loaves. With a reduction of the equivalent of 18,000,000 2-lb. loaves, and with actual production gone down so substantially, it would be a very serious blow to any of the new bakeries operating along the Border if bread imports were allowed to come in in a substantial way. I should like to ask the Minister if there is any contemplation of that.

There is no contemplation of bread being allowed in at all, except, as pointed out in this section, bread coming in in a passenger's baggage. The second case is where it comes in as a gift by post. That does not allow of bread coming into this country in a commercial way across the Border. Section 20 deals with feeding stuffs, so that bread is not permitted in under this measure.

Sections 10 to 15 agreed to.

On Section 16, I should like to know what is the policy of the Minister in regard to the maize-meal mixture? The farmers of the country, and particularly the farmers in my county, are very interested in this matter. We expect that the Minister will do away with the maize-meal mixture altogether. I am not questioning whether or not it was necessary during the economic war, but I do know that it would be most objectionable to continue it. My county is a very large pig-producing county, and the people there expect the Minister to arrange so that they will be able to take pigs across the Border and sell them in the Northern Ireland markets. We are satisfied that the farmers in the northern counties are getting better treatment in regard to the purchase of grain and other feeding stuffs and are getting better prices than we are.

We hope, for one thing, that the Minister will do away with the maize-meal mixture. It might have been necessary two or three years ago, but I think it is time now that the farmers should be enabled to get cheaper and better feeding stuffs. The numbers of fowl and pigs in this country have gone down by a quarter or one-third, and I believe that that reduction in numbers was caused by the imposition of the higher prices for this mixture and its inferior quality. In the very beginning the Government's policy did a lot of harm. It turned people off feeding animals altogether. It is essential that the people of the country should know as soon as possible what the Government intend to do, so that those who are interested can go in again for pig breeding—pig producing and poultry rearing. At the present time in County Monaghan hundreds of pigs cannot be sold. The Pigs Marketing Board have a big advertisement about pig prices and a guaranteed market. As against that there are farmers who tell me that they cannot sell their pigs.

Presumably the situation will be altered in the course of a few weeks. It certainly is not encouraging for men to breed pigs if the conditions are to be the same as they are at the present time. If we are to extend our pig production—and we hope we soon will be able to—then it is necessary for the Government to act quickly. We should have twice as many pigs and fowl as we have at the moment. There is money to be made out of the industry if we have free access to the English markets. If we could get the pure maize meal the same as the people in Country Armagh, and if we could get the same price as they do, we would go in very largely for pig production and poultry rearing. Is there to be any change in the policy of the Minister as regards the maize-meal mixture, or is the present position to be allowed to remain?

I am afraid Senator O'Rourke has raised a large number of very big questions, any one of which might be usefully debated for a few hours. I hope, however, that it will not lead to any discord in the Seanad if I answer a few of the points raised. I think Senator O'Rourke has begged the question many times in his speech. He has assumed that the price of our pigs is less than in the North; he has assumed that the price of the maize-meal mixture is higher than in Northern Ireland, and that it is a worse feed than what they have up there. In every one of these things I will disagree with him. If the Senator gets the published prices in regard to these matters he will find that our prices are more favourable than those in the North. If he will look up the price of maize he will find the Mark Lane price is £8 3s. Od. per ton for the whole maize. Senator O'Rourke is interested in the feeding of pigs. I know that I can buy feeding stuff in Dublin for almost as low at £8 3s. per ton, and that is certainly not giving the miller very much on his work.

I saw the millers and I asked them if we were to stop the mixture, to what extent would the price of ground maize go down? They told me that it would not go down at all; there would be no reduction in price. At any rate, we could not consider any change in the maize-meal mixture until the end of the cereal year, because a number of maize-meal millers and merchants purchased oats and barley on the understanding that they would be absorbed during the cereal year, so that there could not be any change made until the end of August. At that time I will be open to consider any proposition, even to go so far as to alter radically the whole maize-meal mixture scheme. I would not encourage the farmers to think that they would have food stuffs cheaper when that occurs.

Senators interested in the subject know that when a pig is fed it must get something besides the mixture or maize. It gets bran and pollard and meat meal, and when the mixture is made up I think our ration for a pig is cheaper than in the north. We have cheaper bran and pollard. We will now allow bran and pollard in from Great Britain and I will guarantee that it will not come in because it cannot come in at the price. Our price is too low and therefore it will be proved to farmers and others that what I have been saying is correct—that our bran and pollard are lower than in England. Our meat meal is lower than in Great Britain or in Northern Ireland. When the maize-meal mixture was used, our material for pig feeding was lower and at the same time we were getting a better price. It is not true to say that our pigs went down for that cause.

Everybody who can go back a period of 50 years knows that there always has been a cycle in the number of pigs. Every three years they are up and for the next three years they are down. The fact of Fianna Fáil coming in did nothing to alter that condition of affairs. Neither did the advent of the Fine Gael Government alter conditions. Even when the British Government was here, there was no change. Pigs are on the up-grade now, and whether Fianna Fáil remains in office or whether Fine Gael comes into power, you will find that there will be the ordinary cycle, as I said, in which they will go up for a while and then, after a few years, go down again. Nobody can explain why that is so, but it is a fact nevertheless, and nobody has been able to solve the problem.

With regard to Senator O'Rourke's complaint, I am afraid that any modification of the maize-meal mixture scheme would not come into force until the end of August, but I do not think any hardship will be created in the meantime and, as I have said, I shall then be open to consider any suggestion that may be put up—whether to modify the maize-meal mixture scheme or to drop it altogether, I do not know, but I shall be open to consider any scheme that may be put up.

I do not want to delay the House or the Minister in a discussion on this matter, because we know our respective points of view with regard to it; but I think the Minister ought to know, just as well as Senator O'Rourke and I know, that the pig population in this country began to drop in or about 1933. It was lower in 1933, in fact, than it has been for a great number of years—I think it was actually lower than it was last year, when it was much lower than it has been for five or six years.

But it was up again in 1935.

The figure went up for a period, but there is no doubt that the introduction of the maize-meal mixture created a great deal of prejudice in the minds of our farmers. I am speaking now of our small farmers who were engaged in pork raising by the mixing of maize with home-grown products, such as potatoes and skim milk. The Minister must remember that when Senator O'Rourke and I are talking of pig raising, we are not talking of it in terms of the man who raises 50 or 100 pigs, but of the small farmer raising six or seven or eight, or even ten pigs, and, in the case of these small farmers in the past, the pigs were raised partly on what the farmer produced on his own farm and partly in conjunction with the imported product.

I am afraid you will not convince the ordinary farmer in my county or counties such as mine that the introduction of the maize-meal mixture was not to the detriment of speedily finished pork. As to the actual value of the particular grade of pig when you bring it to the market, that is another matter and I shall not debate it now. Simultaneously with the introduction of your maize-meal mixture, however, you had also the position when we were shut out from our Northern markets, from Derry and Belfast, where we had been sending a great deal of our pork. The result is revealed in County Monaghan at the present moment where the farmers are in a kind of panic and cannot get away with their pigs. The Minister has referred to the rise and drop in pig population going in cycles. All I can say with regard to that is that it is very strange that, while it was dropping here, it was going up and up in the Six Counties.

Not now.

It may not be at the moment, but at the period of which I speak, the figure had considerably decreased here from what it had been in 1931, whereas it had increased, by about 30 per cent., in the Six Counties over what it had been in 1931. I have not got the exact figures at the moment, but that is approximately correct. That is something for which the Minister will find it hard to give an explanation when he talks of the pig population going up and down in cycles.

Then, when the Minister tells us that they have certain commitments to the grain growers that they cannot get out of until the end of August, of course one can understand that, but I hope that the whole position will be reconsidered with regard to the commitments to the grain growers in the future, and that the pig producers will not have to carry the grain growers on their backs. It should be possible for us to be able to get cheaper feeding stuffs in the future. If we are going to compete with the fellow in the Six Counties, we have got to be able to get our meals and feeding stuffs cheaper. We know that the relationship between the prices here and the prices in the Six Counties is not what it was for four years, but those of us who have been examining those figures over four years, week after week, know quite well that the prices here were much dearer than in the Six Counties, and that sometimes the materials here were as much as £1 a ton above the price at which the people in the Six Counties could buy their materials.

With regard to what has been said by the last speakers, Sir, I hope that the Minister will not overlook the interests of a very large number of farmers who are grain growers.

That is another problem.

It is a problem in which we are very interested.

I admit that it is quite reasonable to develop the production of oats and barley, but I question the Minister's statement with regard to the numbers of pigs here and in the Six Counties. I have been producing pigs myself and, as a matter of fact, I sold some pigs a few weeks ago, and my experience does not bear out what the Minister has said. Of course, the Minister can tell us that the highest grade of pig here fetches a better price than the highest grade pig in the North, but we do not get the highest price. I sold pigs, and I did not get the first grade—some third grade, and some fourth grade. I attended a meeting of farmers in connection with the Pigs Marketing Board recently, and the whole contention of the farmers was this matter of grading and so on, and they asked the Pigs Marketing Board: "Why are you robbing us in this way?" Their contention is that they are not being treated fairly. It is no argument for the Minister to say that our highest price is higher than the highest price in the North. The average price that the ordinary farmer gets is not nearly as high. That is our grievance, and that is what we object to very much, and we hope that the Minister will arrange with the British authorities that we can take our pigs across the Border and sell them in Armagh, and so on, if we are not getting a fair deal in the Free State. We feel that we shall have a grievance if we are not allowed to do that.

Of course, the Minister is not correct, either, in saying that the price of maize meal here is the same as in the North. There is no use in the Minister quoting Mark Lane. I know something of the trade, and I can say that the price in Dundalk is 10/- a ton higher than in Newry—only a few miles away. I am quite prepared to agree that it was necessary to do that in the past because we could not sell our grain, but now that we have a market in England, there is no necessity for that. Of course, in some cases, such as Sligo and Tralee, there is the matter of transport, and sometimes as much as 200 or 300 miles would be involved, but here is a case where only a few miles are involved, but the farmer who is using the meal of these millers must pay all the cost of that transport, and it is not an economic proposition if we have to send our stuff across to England. We should be able to get the cheapest food that can be got. At any rate, the Minister should consider the farmers, especially in this matter. If you do not encourage them to feed pigs, they will go out of the production of pigs altogether. One man whom I know told the Secretary of the Pigs Marketing Board: "You have robbed us with your grades and so on, and we are going to quit feeding pigs altogether." Now, that is the attitude of the farmers, and that is not a good attitude. We should say to the farmers: "You are going to make money by pigs, and you should go on with the production of pigs because it is one of our chief industries in the Border towns, and we will help you to do so."

Sir, as a member of the Agricultural Panel, I suggest to the Minister for Agriculture that he should be very cautious before taking the advice of any of the people who suggest radical changes as regards the importation of feeding stuffs. I would also like to say that I disagree with Senator Baxter in the suggestion that he has made about the maize-meal mixture. Anyone listening to him would imagine that, as a result of this mixture regulation, people were going out of the production of pigs. I got a circular from the Department of Industry and Commerce this morning which I am sure was received by every other member of the House. It states that the number of pigs six months old and upwards in 1934 was 59,700 and in January, 1938, 62,600.

And the number of sows.

In 1934 the number was 99, 100, and in 1938, 92,500. I have the number of boars, if Senator Mulcahy wants the information. The number was 2,100 in 1934, and I find the same figure for 1938. The number of pigs three months old and under six was 348,510 in 1938, and 371,500 in 1934. I claim that these figures give no indication whatever of an inclination on the part of our people to go out of pig breeding as a result of this regulation.

I want to draw the attention of the House to some figures in regard to the imports of feeding stuffs. It appears from the official figures that in the years 1927 to 1930 we imported, either in the form of maize or maize meal, an average of over 8,000,000 cwts. In 1931-32 the imports rose to 12,000,000 cwts. From 1933 to 1936 the imports fell from 6,000,000 to 4,000,000 cwts. The figure for 1937 was about 5,000,000 cwts. Obviously we are using less imported raw materials for the production of animal products. Were we using more home-grown cereals? On that point the official statistics are also of great interest. It appears from them that in 1929-30 we fed to live stock 10,000,000 cwts. of our oat crop, but in 1934 we fed only 7,000,000 cwts. Where was the expanding outlook for home-grown cereals? To put it in another way, in 1929-30 we used 73.2 per cent. of our home-grown oats products for the feeding of live stock, and in 1934-5 we used only 62 per cent. The point is of importance in connection with the desirability of cheapening the cost of the raw materials of our principal agricultural activities as much as possible. I would like to advocate that, as soon as our commitments to the millers or others in the matter of wheat and maize mixture have been liquidated, we should get back to a completely free import of feeding stuffs, because in no other way can we put our agriculturists on the footing on which they may compete, on something approximating to their former terms, with their rivals in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

I should like to say a few things about pigs that I omitted to deal with when replying to Senator O'Rourke. I would like to say for the benefit of Senators and others, that the Pigs Marketing Board are very anxious to clear any pigs that may be anywhere in the country. I have never known of them, even if a telephone message only reached them on the morning of a market, not to clear the pigs that were there. I think if Senator O'Rourke, or anybody else who is concerned, would get in touch with the Pigs Marketing Board, that they will find it will facilitate them in clearing any pigs that may be there.

With regard to grading, I would not like the farmers of the country to get the impression that the grading is very bad because it might discourage them. I know that in the last report I got it showed that 63 per cent. of the pigs were passed as "A 1" and "B 1." In other words, two-thirds of the pigs got top and second top price, and as well as I remember, the average for all pigs over a period was 3/- under the top price. I think that compares very well with any other areas with which we can make a comparison. There is, I believe, a lower percentage of pigs going into the top grade in Monaghan and in the northern counties than in the rest of the country, principally due to the breed favoured there. It is now in process of being changed. I mention these matters so as to prevent, if possible, any discouragement with regard to farmers going more into pigs. I am very anxious—as Senators are—that we should increase the number of pigs in the country. I believe that the number of pigs will increase. An indication that an increase will take place is to be found in the fact that the price for small pigs is going up.

Senator O'Rourke referred to the price of maize meal and the maize-meal mixture in Dundalk and Newry. I am told that the price of maize meal in the northern counties was always cheaper there than in the southern counties, even when there was free trade between both parts of this country, and free trade between this part and England, so that we might have to go further than to drop the maize-meal mixture to get the same price prevailing in Dundalk and in Newry. Millers, for some reason or another, have always claimed to have higher costs in the South than in the North. With regard to the point that was raised by Senator Johnston, there are certain things that have not been taken into account when we compare the figures of imports of feeding stuffs for particular periods. There is one point to be borne in mind, and it is that we are using a good deal more wheat offals than we used before the restrictions came into effect. Our flour millers at that time used to import more, but they have now come to the point when they have a bigger output of offals, so that we are now using very much more bran and pollard than we were using in 1931. The second point is that we have a comparatively high acreage of wheat. As Senators know, there is a fair percentage of any wheat crop that is unfit for milling. I should say that it averages two or three cwts. per acre. All that is now used for general feeding, for the feeding of poultry and so on. We have four times as much beet pulp now as we had in 1931. In that year we exported a big part of our beet pulp. Last year we exported only about 3,000 tons, and from this on we do not expect to be exporting any at all. These three items—the increased quantity of offals, the small wheat and the beet pulp—have to be added to the general pool of feeding stuffs that we had not got before.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 17 stand part of the Bill."

This is the section that puts a restriction on the importation of hay, oats and straw. I want to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that farmers living in the Border counties, and having farms on both sides of the Border, are faced with extraordinary difficulties in trying to get their crops from one farm to the other. The experiences that some of them have had to undergo are really grotesque. I do not know what exactly the regulations are, but the Revenue authorities surely should realise that people in their position have to travel from one farm to another, and that if a man goes off with a horse and cart and returns with a load of hay or straw, he should not be regarded as a criminal. In the case of these farmers, there is plenty of scope, I suggest, for the exercise of ordinary commonsense. I have heard of men being taken to the barracks and kept there all day because they went off with their horses and carts and took a load of potatoes from one farm to the other.

He really did not comply with certain regulations, but the regulations are of such a nature as to cause great dissatisfaction and to involve great restraint in the carrying out of a man's ordinary business. The preventive officers, or whoever is responsible for dealing with these matters, ought to be advised to exercise discretion and to get to know the local circumstances better. They should interest themselves in local conditions, and see who the men are who, in the course of their ordinary callings, have to cross the Border with crops. So far as these regulations can be eased, I think it should be done.

I was not present during the discussion which is now proceeding, and I understand that it has assumed rather a general character. If that be so, I should like to put one question. It refers to a minor matter, but it is one with which a number of people are concerned. For many years, many of us have got to believe that our health has very much benefited by the consumption of a proprietary article known as "Bemax." Latterly, I tried to obtain "Bemax" which, I am told, is a preparation of wheat. I was told that it could not be procured here, but that there was an equally efficient substitute. In these matters, into which faith enters largely, we are inclined to look with suspicion on what is described as an equally efficient substitute. A few days afterwards, I saw a carton of "Bemax" on a friend's breakfast-table. I asked him where he got it, and he said: "I used my brains." We can form our own conclusions what sort of brains he used. Perhaps the Minister would say whether, under this Agreement, a person will be able to get "Bemax."


That does not arise on the section.

I did not know that we were discussing a section.


We are dealing with Section 16, which has to do with feeding stuffs—hay and straw.

In reply to Deputy Baxter's question, this is an enactment of an old section, and there is no change so far as this section goes. The practice has been, in cases where a man has a farm on each side of the Border, or across the Border, to pro vide him with a permit. He would have no difficulty in getting a permit to move straw, hay, oats or barley— there is an exception in the case of potatoes—across the Border. That permit is issued through the Revenue Commissioners, and they attach conditions to it. I do not know what the conditions are. In some cases, they may be considered vexatious. If the Senator would let me know, I should be glad to point out anything that I thought was causing difficulty or that was unnecessary in the conditions to the Revenue Commissioners. I cannot guarantee, of course, that the Revenue Commissioners would agree with my representations. I should like to make things easier for these people, so far as I can. So far as the law goes, there is no change in these cases.

Senator Sir John Keane raised a point to which I may, perhaps, refer, although it might have been dealt with on a former section which was concerned with wheat-preparations. There is no change so far as that is concerned. A licence can be issued by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Any person can bring in under 5 lb. of wheaten preparation as a traveller—that would be, I suppose, for the purpose of his lunch, or as a present to a person. It can also, I think, be allowed in for health reasons but only under licence. I do not think that the Minister for Industry and Commerce would presume to point out to any person that there was a preparation which was just as good from a health point of view as the other preparation. There must have been some other objection. It is the Minister for Industry and Commerce who administers the wheaten-preparations part of the Act and I cannot say any more about it.

Section 17 agreed to.
Sections 18 and 19 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 20 stand part of the Bill."

The Minister is taking power to permit certain feeding stuffs to be brought in under licence. Do I take it from this section that all the feeding stuffs mentioned in the Third and Fourth Schedules can be brought in? Suppose I have got a ton lorry of my own, can I go into the Six Counties and bring back a ton of feeding stuffs for my own use? Can I take in 16 stone of maize meal, or what exactly am I at liberty to do? It seems to me that the Minister has a big discretion in this matter. I do not suggest that he is not going to be just in the administration of the Section, but he is given great liberty to grant a licence to one and to refuse it to another.

It was to prevent that that this section was drafted. At present, I could give a licence to any farmer on the Border to import any feeding stuffs, but the Department never did issue a licence to a farmer to bring in linseed cake or maize-meal mixture. This section provides for the making of a general order and, in the general order, it will be laid down that linseed cake, for instance, will be allowed in free or, perhaps, maize-meal mixture, though I am not sure that that could be allowed in. In that case, any farmer bringing in anything named in the order for his own use will be entirely free from any restriction—so long as the Revenue Commissioner are satisfied that he is bringing it in for his own use. We must, in the order, lay down certain conditions and try to regulate how it may be brought in—for example, in his own cart or in certain quantities. It was pointed out in the Dáil that if we were to say his own cart, it would limit the right to six or seven miles of the Border. In the county Donegal, I should be anxious that it would extend to more than six or seven miles. In fact, I should like to take in the whole of County Donegal for any feeding stuffs that might be imported and to provide that a farmer bringing in feeding stuffs for his own use in County Donegal would not be subject to restriction as regards quantity and would not be subject to any tariff. We are trying to avoid the danger the Senator pointed out. By making a general order, every farmer will get what he is entitled to.

Can I bring these feeding stuffs in without paying any revenue duty?

Yes, if they are in the order.

Regardless of what the price may be in the Twenty-Six Counties?

I can actually buy a cheaper commodity in the Six Counties, bring it in here and feed it?

If you can get a cheaper article.

Section 20 agreed to.
Sections 21 to 26 agreed to.
Schedules and Title agreed to.
Bill reported.
Bill received for final consideration, and passed.