This Bill deals with the egg trade from beginning to end. It continues the provisions of the 1924 Act and the 1930 Act. The first Agricultural Produce (Eggs) Act was passed in 1924. That Act was amended in 1930 in some slight respects. We are now continuing the provisions of the 1924 and the 1930 Acts in this Bill, but we are going somewhat further also. Perhaps it might be useful at this stage to give some idea of what was done in the 1924 and the 1930 Acts. The 1924 Act dealt entirely with exporters. That is one of the big differences between that legislation and the present Bill. Exporters were registered under the 1924 Act. They had to have suitable premises. They had to test, grade and pack eggs before export, according to the regulations that were laid down. An inspector had power to recommend the forfeiture of a package of eggs if he found a number of defective eggs in the package. That forfeiture could be sanctioned or rejected by the Minister as he thought fit. After a number of forfeitures had taken place, it was the practice to cancel the registration of an exporter. In practice also, after some time the exporter was restored to the register, and if he had a good record from that onwards, as sometimes happened, there was no further trouble. If, however, his licence was again cancelled, the cancellation lasted for a much longer time, but, as far as my experience goes, I do not think that any exporter was removed from the register indefinitely. In other words, nobody gets a life sentence, as far as I know.
Dealers or producers were not dealt with specifically in the 1924 Act. They could be prevented from selling dirty eggs, and a package could be forfeited if found on a dealer's premises to contain a number of eggs that were considered as below the standard, but the theory of the Act was that pressure should be used by the exporter down along the line to the producer. The theory was that if the exporter was getting bad eggs from certain dealers he would cease to do business with these dealers, and that the dealers, in turn, if they were getting eggs which they found were unfit for sale from certain producers, would cease to do business with these producers and eventually the producers would be compelled to market good eggs. In practice that did not work out. A number of exporters did set out in the spirit of the legislation to try to improve things, and refused, in the first instance, to take eggs from dealers who did not offer good eggs. After some time, however, they heard from these dealers: "If you do not take these eggs somebody else will." They began to lose business in that way. Similarly, the dealer who refused to take eggs from a producer was told: "If you do not take them somebody else will take them", and he also began to lose business. After some time, if the exporter wanted to remain in business, he had to take eggs from all dealers and the dealers had to take eggs from all producers.
The result was that there was no great improvement. The 1930 Act was passed, and there were some slight changes made in the 1924 Act. There were larger powers given to inspectors which did not amount to a lot, but one big change which was considered important at the time and which, I believe, was important—it is being continued in this Bill—was that the exporter must be a qualified person, or must have a qualified person in charge of his business. A qualified person meant a person who knew how to test and grade eggs properly. Those people who are now in charge of exporters' premises are regarded as qualified by the Department, but no new person can go into the business unless he is properly qualified. There are courses of instruction held by the Department, and such people must attend them and pass an examination before becoming qualified to enter the business. In time, we will possibly get an improvement in the quality of eggs as a result of that.
The big problem we have to deal with now is the stale egg. We find in times, for instance, of rising prices, that the producer is a little slow about marketing his eggs. He says: "If I do not sell this week, I will sell next week when the price may be better." The dealer gets them eventually when they have gone up in price and perhaps down in quality. He again holds on to them because he says the price is improving and there is no harm in holding them for a week or two. Then the wholesaler gets them. He does not hold them too long, but when the egg reaches the consumer, whether outside or inside this country, the egg is stale and very often unfit for human consumption. This Bill deals to a great extent with that problem, and I might say also that there is more necessity for dealing with that problem now than there was in 1924 or 1930, because competition on the foreign market is every year becoming more keen. The Bill seeks to accelerate the movement of eggs right from the beginning, from the producer to the wholesaler, and to the retailer at home, or on the other side, if they are exported.
We are going to deal with dealers for the first time under this Bill. They must be registered; they must have suitable premises; and they must dispose of eggs within a prescribed time. For the first time, that principle comes in. We are going to see, so far as we can, that dealers get rid of their eggs in the shortest possible and reasonable time. They must also pack them in standard packages and docket them. As Senators are aware, the dealer goes around the country collecting eggs from the producers, or he takes them in from producers who bring them to him. He will now be compelled to docket them as being from each producer, so that afterwards, when tested by the wholesaler, we can trace them back to the producer, if we find a large number of eggs unfit for human consumption in any particular consignment. We can then tell the producer that he had better improve matters, or it will become impossible for the dealer to buy from him at all. The dealer in all cases will get his eggs from the producer, or, if he has a special licence, from another dealer. He disposes in all cases to the wholesaler, or, by special licence, to another dealer, or to a retailer. He keeps the necessary records of his purchases and sales, and he must have registered premises.
Also, it will be an offence for him to buy or sell dirty eggs. That is specifically laid down and it is also an offence for him to have such eggs on his premises after a certain time. It is quite possible that a retailer may get in eggs and may not have time to examine them for an hour or two. A reasonable time will be allowed and, after that time, if dirty eggs are found on his premises, he will be liable to prosecution. He will pay a registration fee of £1 and an annual fee of £1, but he will not pay fees on the volume of his business, as the wholesaler does. His registration can be cancelled for any contravention of the Acts or of the regulations. Under the Bill, the present exporters will automatically become wholesalers and will carry on automatically in the premises they now have registered as wholesalers. There will be a provisional licence given, but it may be necessary to have these premises improved. Time will be given also for that. The fee which the present wholesaler pays on export is a penny per 36 dozen. He pays that only on export, but, in future, he will be asked to pay a fee on all eggs dealt with, whether exported or sold at home. The fee will probably be raised, but not, I think, to more than twopence per case or per 36 dozen. If he buys from a producer, he will be subject to the same regulations and so on as the retailer with regard to packing and docketing, and if he buys from a retailer, he must test, grade and pack, and must mark them also, according to the regulation. At present, they mark their cases and the individual eggs. We may go so far in this Bill, but not, I think, immediately, because I do not believe we are ready for it, as to insist on the system by which a certain mark is put on each egg which will identify it in respect of date, so far as inspectors and people in the trade are concerned, but not perhaps so far as the public are concerned.
There may be different regulations with regard to home sale and export sale of eggs, but that again is a matter for further consideration. They must do this testing, packing, grading and disposing of their eggs within a prescribed time. It is an offence for them to sell dirty eggs or eggs unfit for human consumption. They will find out whether an egg is fit for human consumption when they have tested it, and they must not sell an egg which is unfit. There will be three grades of egg—the good egg, the second grade egg and the egg unfit for human consumption. After testing, they must mark their eggs, if they are either second quality or unfit for human consumption. Such eggs must be put aside, and if an inspector calls and finds egg that have not been so graded, after having been on the premises for sufficient time to allow of grading, the wholesaler will be guilty of an offence and liable to prosecution.
The powers of inspectors are the same as in previous Bills. I think these are the main changes made by this legislation. The principle underlying this Bill is the same as that underlying the 1924 and 1930 Acts, that is, by getting better eggs put on the market, both export and home, we hope eventually to get a better price. This is the first time we have tried to get a better quality of egg placed on the home market. In the City of Dublin a greatly increased consumption could be got, and, as I say, by getting a better egg, we expect to get a better price. If we get a better price, we expect to get a greater production, and in that way to bring more prosperity to the egg producing industry.
In conclusion, I want to point out what I pointed out in the Dáil, and Senators who may have read the Dáil Debates will forgive me for repeating it. There may be some confusion between the price that the Northern Ireland producer gets for eggs and the price which we get. Take the case of extra selected or best grade. Perhaps the Northern Ireland producer gets a price much higher than ours, but it must be remembered that the weight of ours is not as great as theirs, and if we get a comparison, egg for egg, as it were, both in degree of freshness and weight, I think it will be found that Northern Ireland producers are getting about 1½d. a dozen more than we are getting. That is a good lot, and if we can, by getting a good reputation for our eggs, catch up on the Northern Ireland price, we shall have done quite a lot. I think we should be able to do that, if we can assure consumers in general that if they buy an egg passed by the Department of Agriculture here, they can be certain that the egg is all right. We hope, at any rate, to improve things considerably by this legislation.