Agricultural Produce (Eggs) (No. 2) Bill, 1938—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

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.

I would say, at the outset, that if the price of our eggs in future can be raised by regulation, we are going to have a very high price indeed. I look on this as a really drastic measure. I am not too optimistic that it is going to do a great deal to give the producer a very much improved price. I remember when the Pigs and Bacon Act was passing through another House, some of us pointed out that it was all very fine to be optimistic about the consequences of legislation when you are legislating, but all this regulating of trade has not brought the satisfactory results anywhere that were expected of it. I have just been reading what an agricultural expert wrote in an English paper on Sunday last about conditions in England. He said:—

"In spite of subsidies, quotas, marketing boards and other legislation designed for the purpose of helping our agricultural industry, the unpalatable truth is that farming to-day is in worse plight than at any period since the war."

That is in England?

In England.

Even in England.

I will answer the interrupters in the way they do not want to be answered. If it is as bad as that in England, what must it be in Ireland? I have great sympathy with the Minister in his endeavour to improve the position of the egg trade. I was a member of the other House when the first Bill was passing through in 1924, and it is interesting to make a comparison between the conditions then and the conditions to-day in the egg trade. In 1924 the quantity of eggs exported amounted to 4,272,830 great hundreds of a value of £3,079,203. In 1937 our export was scarcely more than half. It amounted to only 2,458,846 great hundreds, and the return was £857,689. That is an alarming drop both in productivity and cash return, and what we have to remember is that we have legislation operating since then, and that legislation has not brought to us the improvement in either price or productivity that one would hope for from it. For that reason I, personally, am not over-optimistic that this Bill, which I say is very drastic in many of its clauses, is going to bring a greatly increased price to the producer.

The Bill is making very great demands, not only on producers, but on the people in the trade. I do not want to go over the arguments that were put to the Minister in the other House. But it seems to me that, when you make it obligatory on the traders of the country to make alterations in their premises before they can get a licence to do a certain trade, such a provision is in itself going to hamper the trade in the initial stages. If an individual is going to incur the expenditure necessary to enable him to get a licence, he will naturally expect to receive some return on his capital. That return must be taken out of the trade, and, in my view, will be taken out of the price which goes to the producer. There is another point, and this is likely to happen in this trade as it has happened under the Creameries Act and under the Pigs and Bacon Act. We have a great many small people—they may be poor people— doing a fairly considerable trade, and doing it with very limited capital resources. They are people who have not ready cash, and perhaps may not have credit, so as to make it possible for them to reconstruct their business and thereby keep in the trade. If the position be, as I have stated it, then you are going to have a great many people going out of business. That fact in itself will restrict production.

Most of us know what the conditions are in the country. The drop in our egg production is due to a number of causes and not to any one cause. This variety of causes has brought us to the position revealed in the figures for 1937 as against 1924. Now we are to have this further restriction on production. I believe that this measure will cause such inconvenience that, instead of the housewives carrying their baskets of eggs two or three miles extra for sale, because the neighbour who used to buy them has gone out of business, they may decide that their few dozen eggs are not worth bothering about at all. These few dozen eggs in the homes of thousands and thousands of small people in the countryside will make up the millions of great hundreds that we want to export. I think that the clause in the Bill dealing with that will, before it is made operative, require very grave consideration from the Minister. I fear that in its present form it will not bring about the good results that he hopes for. Let him be careful that he is not going to nip in the bud further productivity.

Looking at the position as I see it to-day, I am convinced that legislation alone is not going to restore the position to anything like what it used to be. Much more than a measure of this kind is required before we get back to the old position. It is true, as I have said, that a variety of causes can be said to be responsible for the drop in our egg industry. We have had a period of dear food for our poultry. In addition to dear food and the difficulties caused by the economic war, we have had legislation of this kind sponsored by the present Ministry and the previous Ministry. It is true to say that no one in any branch of agriculture in this or in any other country will keep in production if the costs of production exceed his returns. In my opinion, if the Minister is going to succeed with his legislation, not alone will he require careful and wise administration of the legislation which he is asking the House to pass, but further, he will have to try and awaken a spirit in the countryside that is not there at present. The farmer and the housewife have had so many upsets in recent years that they have no confidence that if they go in for production they are going to be paid for their labours. In fact, in view of their past experience it is hard for them to be confident about anything so far as the future is concerned. In view of that, the Minister, I suggest, will need to go out on a propaganda campaign that is sadly needed and sadly lacking.

I feel in a way that, possibly, the Agricultural Commission which is to be set up will, in its review of farming problems, go some distance in bringing our farmers, our people in the country, and, above all, our people in the towns and cities, back to a realisation of what is necessary to keep the wheels moving in rural Ireland. In the meantime, the Minister will have to see that cheap food is made available for the poultry industry. He will have to see that his legislation in the future will not put upon poultry producers the obligation of having to procure food which they regard, in the first place, as not being suitable, and, in the second place, of being too expensive. In addition to cheap food, there will have to be much better housing. A great deal was said on that in the Dáil. Yesterday, at a meeting of the county committee of agriculture in my county, we had before us proposals which the Ministry are putting forward as a solution of the housing problem for poultry in the country. These proposals, in my opinion, are not going to solve the problem at all. The Minister is suggesting a scheme of loans for the housing of poultry. The loans, at 5 per cent., are, I understand, to be repaid in four years. I do not believe they will be availed of at all. Poultry production here is not going to be such a paying proposition that our people on 10 or 20 acres of land will embark on an expenditure of £20 or £30 for the erection of a poultry house, especially when the loan has to be repaid in four years.

Has the Senator any suggestion to make with regard to that?

Before I heard the scheme in full detail I asked if the 5 per cent. represented the repayment of principal and interest. I was told then that it did not. The 5 per cent. is the interest charged on the loan, and the principal has to be repaid in four years. I feel certain that a poultry house, in accordance with the Department's plan, could not be built for less than £25. Therefore, I cannot see any people, except those with capital resources themselves, taking up the scheme. I suggest to the Minister that a poultry house, such as we are thinking of, is not going to fall to pieces in four years or in ten years. It will stand as long as most dwelling-houses. Therefore, I cannot see why the loan to build it would not be extended over 15 or 20 years. My view is that poultry production is such an essential branch of agriculture, especially on our small farms, that it is next in importance to housing for the people. The Government are subsidising housing. If they were to subsidise, even to a small extent, the housing required for poultry I believe they would be astonished at the results that would follow. I believe that a stimulus of that kind is needed to increase production in poultry farming to-day.

There has been a good deal of talk about the dirty egg. I am afraid it is not going to be so easily eliminated. I remember a man in my county being brought before a district justice for selling eggs that were not clean. The district justice asked him what he would do with the hen so that the egg would be clean. His reply was: "I do not know, unless you got her to wash her feet before she went in." In view of the condition of the soil, of the whole countryside, even around dwelling-houses, leaving aside altogether the poultry houses, I submit that this problem of the clean egg is not going to be easily solved. People are to be prosecuted if they wash eggs. When people are up against regulations of that sort, what are their reactions going to be? I agree that if there was enough of money in it they would take the necessary trouble to produce the better article, but what I fear is that there is not going to be so much money in this, especially during the initial stages.

It may be that, in the course of a couple of years, we will be able to establish a better reputation for our eggs than they enjoy at the moment. I suggest that can only be done by a big advertising campaign outside the country. So far nothing has been attempted in that direction. Would it not be possible for the poultry industry, the dairying industry and the bacon industry in this country to combine either under the aegis of the Government, or in some other way for the purpose of carrying out an advertising campaign in England where they want to sell their goods, and not be leaving everything to chance. If you go over to England you are struck by the absence of any Irish produce in the shops. If you ask about it, they hardly know what we produce here. That is not as it should be. I am satisfied that we will not have the opportunity for increased production here until we try to convince the consumers that we have the goods, and that we will deliver them properly. That is an aspect of production that has been absolutely and completely neglected. Our competitors have been doing this advertising very successfully. Opportunities in this direction are available to us in England that are not available to any of our competitors.

It is, unfortunately, true that thousands and thousands of our boys and girls have gone over to England during the last few years. There must be thousands and thousands of homes in England in which they are ministering to the wants of the people of that country at their breakfast and dinner tables. I read recently of the difficulties that are being created by the presence in England of a number of German and Austrian boys and girls. It was reported that they were getting into a sort of Nazi organisation and it was felt that they were trying to carry on a certain class of propaganda in the interests of their own countries and their people at home. I cannot understand why we should not make some effort to get our boys and girls in England to help their own country. Despite what may be said of them, thousands and thousands of them are holding up their heads there and carrying on in quite a decent way. They are not ashamed of their country, and if members of this House were over there and saw them, they would not be ashamed of them either. And, I cannot see why we here at home could not, in our efforts to spread the information about the value of our products in England, utilise those people who have gone over, and particularly the girls who have gone into homes, and who are supplying at the breakfast and at the dinner tables, produce which we here can produce second to none, if we go to a little pains about it.

I would urge on the Minister that his legislation will get us but a short distance indeed, and the fruits will be disappointing, unless the problem as a whole be tackled. I am not going into the problem as a whole now, because it is a very wide one. Its scope is of such a character that I believe it can only be adequately considered by this commission which the Minister has, I am glad to say, decided to set up, but in the meantime there are things which can be done and ought to be done. I think myself that the Minister is understanding enough now to know that for poultry production in this country you want cheap and proper food.

The Minister has realised that better housing is essential, but I suggest that the Minister's way about getting better houses will not get them, that he will have to go some other way about it and that it is rather dangling the carrot before the donkey to say that this scheme of loans is going to be effective—it is not. You are not going to have healthy stock and cleaner eggs produced until you can house the poultry better, and housing is required at every farmstead in the country. In addition, if we are going to produce these eggs and put them on the market in a cleaner condition, we ought to go out and tell the world about it; we ought to let the world know that we can produce the best eggs and sell them.

There are two points arising, Sir, out of the speech of the Minister and the speech of Senator Baxter. The first one is that I think that Senator Baxter is wrong in saying that Section 5 forbids you to wash eggs. The second point is, I find that when Ministers come to this House to introduce legislation they very rarely try to give us any idea of the probable cost of the new measures they are putting before the House.

Hear, hear!

Generally the cost of the measures work out at a great deal more than is anticipated, for one thing. The cost of inspection and other matters takes away enormously from the profits of the retailers in the first instance, but the retailer takes care that the costs, as far as he can—and he is generally extremely successful—are passed on to the original producer. I would very much like to know whether any steps are contemplated to prevent the producer getting a smaller price for his eggs than he does at the present moment. I would like the Minister, when he winds up, to give us some general idea of the actual difference over a period between the price of what you might call the English fresh egg and the Irish fresh egg, at the present moment, and to say whether it was owing to representations by the High Commissioner or how it was that the information came to him generally, as to the legislation he is proposing now.

Further, I would like to make one small disagreement with Senator Baxter. I do think that legislation carried out reasonably can improve a product which is good. I think the Minister is right, that without the original Eggs Act, the original Bulls Act of Mr. Hogan and the Butter Act, instead of not getting increased value for our eggs, we would, in the present competition going on in the British market, be getting prices a great deal lower than we are at the present time.

I find some of Senator Baxter's remarks quite good, but, generally speaking, he seemed to be in very morose mood this afternoon, when he talked about the terrible condition of the farmers. I do not agree at all that conditions are altogether as bad as he led the House to believe.

It was you made me say that.

There is no doubt whatever that the egg production of this country has gone down, but it does not necessarily mean that if it has gone down, it is the result of the legislation of the last five or ten years for that matter. It does not necessarily mean that if exporters had to provide special housing accommodation in order to look after their eggs properly and to see that they were cleaned and graded, that that affected the producer. I would like the Senator to understand that this fall in eggs generally has come about during the period when the eggs of the country were collected at the very door of the producer. In actual fact, the more facilities that have been given to the producer, the less the producer happened to be interested, so that Senator Baxter's point about "nursing the farmer", as such, is not going to help him to increase his production.

In addition, I might also add that if this legislation provides for capital expenditure for the exporter, it does not mean that it should go back on the eggs, because most exporters are themselves mixed merchants. Generally speaking, the exporter carries on a general grocery trade, and as a consequence, he brings his lorry and picks up the eggs at the door and gives groceries or some other kind of commodity in return. Sometimes I wonder if there was keener supervision of the operations of the dealers in those circumstances and of the value that the farmer was getting in return for his eggs, that it would justify him in maintaining his egg production. It is a point—I do not know whether there is anything in it or not. However, it is an end, in any case, which I think should be examined.

Personally, I think this whole question of eggs should be tackled in the stock itself and I am of opinion that the grading up of our stocks of hens, the weeding-out of the bad ones, the supply of high-grade chicks from recognised hens and a general intensive supervision of supplies of chicks from high-grade hens—let them be the Department hens or the hens of individual owners—should be attempted, and that whatever money should be spent on that account, would be well spent and that whatever distribution of chicks was made to the farmers, they could not get enough of those particular high-laying strains. If a lot of the money that might be spent on the building of houses or anything else was diverted that way for a few years, you would have far better results and far more contented poultry producers.

I feel also that this question of the marking of eggs is not helpful to the export trade. I think that any marking of any kind, let it be ink or dirt, is objectionable to the consumer and I believe that if the Minister could succeed—I do not know whether it is an English or an Irish regulation—in changing the system so that we could send our eggs clean, without any mark of any description, they would be in a more presentable condition for the consumer and would, I believe, return a higher price than at present. I believe that the marking on eggs has a detrimental effect on prices.

I have not anything further to say except that I do believe and am satisfied that legislation of this sort is genuinely necessary to control exporters of our eggs. People in the trade, naturally, will resist legislation or restrictions of any kind, but in the long run, it is definitely going to give confidence to the consumer on the other side and better conditions in which we can send our produce to them. We cannot sell the produce in proper condition unless there is supervision and I am personally in favour of legislation of this sort and I hope it will have the desired effect.

A Cathaoirligh, I agree that this legislation is very necessary and I believe the Minister is touching upon the real problem when he is dealing with the question of the over-holding of eggs. I think that is the great difficulty. Eggs are being over-held too long. That is due to the long distances between the districts and to bad systems of transport and collection. I feel sure that this over-holding has had a bad effect, not only in England, but in this country and it is only fair to the consumers of eggs here and in England that they should get some guarantee that they are at least fresh.

In some measure also, I share Senator Baxter's fears about those regulations. If they are enforced too rigidly they may cause dislocation in the trade. As Senator Baxter has pointed out, many dealers could not undertake structural alterations immediately and I suggest that the Minister ought to give all the time possible and make every allowance that he can, before he enforces the regulations too drastically.

On the whole also, looking at this business from the general point of view, if the egg trade is to be developed properly, the whole trade should be organised on a proper basis like the butter industry. We have had experience of the value of co-operation in the production of butter. We saw that it was quite easy to enforce the regulations through the co-operative societies and that when the bounties were distributed through those societies, they went direct to the producers. If the egg trade is to be developed as it should be I think the Minister should see that the time is coming when he must encourage the carrying on of the trade through the co-operative societies. The collection and disposal of the eggs should be done in future through these organisations, otherwise there will always be difficulties about it. I think that the spread of co-operation would do much to encourage production and it would ensure that those regulations would be enforced and that the eggs would be produced more cleanly and transported more efficiently after they had been graded properly.

I have very little to say, Chairman, on this Bill but I wonder, if nothing had been done at all from 1924 onwards, whether the position would have been really any worse than it is to-day. Do Senators realise what is happening? In the last eight years our exports of eggs have halved and the Danish exports have doubled. That is roughly what it is. The Minister is not seriously suggesting that regulation, better or worse, is the explanation or that this final fillip is going to make any practical difference. It cannot be so. It may be the explanation, but there is something much bigger than that wrong. There is one thing wrong certainly, and that is the high cost of feeding stuffs. The Minister went in for the elaborate regulation of this maize mixture business which, I believe, is being abandoned. I do not know whether that is an illustration of how Governments manage things better than business people. I am sure that that has something to do with it. But there is something spiritual, there is something in the bones of the people, something deeper, that must account for the extraordinary fact that the Danish output is doubled and ours is halved.

I ask the Minister again to get away from this belief in regulation. We are trammeled up with regulations. I do not believe that that is anything but a small fraction of the explanation. It is like a business man with a lot of super-offices and the latest modern labour-saving appliances who thinks it is good business. Very often the man with the most old-fashioned methods is the better man, because he has the spiritual personality behind him. There is something radically wrong with the whole business. We have poured enough money into this business. There was an unfortunate dispute which aggravated it; but there is something radically wrong which is not going to be met by regulations and tightening up such as we have in this Bill. But as we are on the road to regulation, a little more will not do us any harm.

I must apologise for butting in so often in connection with agricultural problems, but I take rather a keen interest in them. I should like, first of all, to underline the extraordinary economic importance of the egg industry to us. Actually there are, I believe, about 20,000,000 poultry in the country. Some 10 or 12 years ago the value of the output of these poultry was a very substantial portion of the total agricultural output. What I should like to emphasise most of all is the fact that if you look back over the last 50 or 60 years of our agricultural statistics, you will find that two things, and only two things, have shown a steady rate of increase, and that of these two, one is the poultry population. Some 60 or 80 years ago there were only about 11,000,000 poultry in the 26-County area. There has been, on the whole, a steady upward trend in the poultry population, and also I may add, in the population of dry cattle two years old and upwards. The population of practically everything else, of cows, pigs, horses and so on, has remained practically stationary.

I think the significance of that is that poultry is one of the lines of our agricultural activity which is capable of development, and if given a fair chance it shows signs of being able to become more and more important as time goes on. Yet, if we look at the present position, we find that the average flock of poultry per homestead in the country is only a beggarly 50 hens and ducks. In other words, we have about 400,000 agricultural holdings, we have about 20,000,000 poultry, and the average poultry-keeping is only about 50 per holding. That average is far too low. If that average could be doubled in the near future it would do more to add to the wealth of the nation than anything else you can possibly suggest.

What then are the factors that influence people to go in for an expansion of poultry production? Undoubtedly, as certain Senators have rightly underlined, the chief consideration which influences them is the cost of the feeding stuffs. Of course, if you are a tillage farmer, and you use the whole of your output of tillage in feeding your own stock of poultry or what not, it does not matter to you what the cost of feed is. The only thing that concerns you is the price of your finished animal products. Actually, we have hundreds of thousands of poultry producers in this country who, for one reason or another, cannot produce on their own farms the feed that they need to give their poultry. We have in one or two specialised areas, in Louth and Wexford, a number of tillage farmers who specialise in the production of quantities of cereal products which they sell through the channels of commerce, and for which they are able to obtain an inflated price through the Minister's absurd maize mixture scheme.

The raw materials used in producing eggs are more than half of Irish origin. It is stated that a hen will consume one cwt. of grain or meal in the year; that half that amount of grain should be fed to her in an unground state in the form of whole oats; and some portion of the rest of the ration, if she does not get a full ration of grain, will probably consist of the surplus potatoes or surplus skim milk produced on the farm. So that only perhaps for 25 per cent. of the total cost of feeding for eggs do we depend on the import of maize meal or other foreign products. Consequently, the factor that influences the production of eggs is the relation between the price of the feed and the price of eggs. We may ignore for the moment the origin of that feed. Taking the average price of oats and Indian meal as typical of the ration fed for poultry production, I had the curiosity to observe the relation between this price and the price of eggs for a period of some 20 or 30 years. I found that there was a most extraordinary stability in their ratio, generally speaking. It was somewhere between 40 and 50 per cent. What I mean is that, if you assume, which I believe is not far off the truth, that it takes eight units of feed to produce one unit, by weight, of eggs, and if you compare the price of eight units of feed, on the basis I suggested, with the price of one unit of egg, deriving those prices in both cases from official statistics, you will find, over a period of years, that the relation between these prices is somewhere between 40 and 50 per cent.

I also found, in more recent years, a tendency for the price of feed to rise up to or above the 50 per cent. ratio, and I think I was right in concluding that that happened because there was a tendency for the number of poultry to diminish and of egg production generally to go down. In other words, if you want to increase egg production, keep down the price of feed; and nothing is of greater importance in relation to the expansion of egg production than a suitable relation between feed price and egg price.

There are two other points to which I should like to draw the Minister's attention, because they seem to me to be serious defects in the Bill, the principle of which I personally am prepared to recommend. There are four categories of registered persons in connection with this Bill. I notice, under the Bill, that only registered wholesalers may export eggs. Does that mean that a poultry farmer, having, perhaps, 1,000 or 2,000 poultry, is not able himself directly to export eggs to Northern Ireland or Great Britain, but must incur the unnecessary expense and loss of selling his eggs in the first instance to a registered wholesaler? I think the Bill should contain a provision that every poultry farmer, the scale of whose operations is sufficiently important, should be automatically entitled to the privileges of a registered wholesaler.

Another point, which is perhaps only an oversight of the draftsman, occurs in page 26, which prescribes the various sources from which the registered wholesaler may acquire eggs. He may acquire them from a registered dealer, or from a producer, or another registered wholesaler. Suppose a registered wholesaler is himself by way of being a poultry farmer—in fact I think it should be the case in the case of an important poultry farmer—does that mean that he is not entitled, by law, to acquire eggs from his own hens and that, if he takes any eggs from his own hens, he is liable to a fine not exceeding £50, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months? It is, of course, probably either a mare's nest or an oversight of drafting, but, whatever it is, I should like the Minister to look into the matter and put the thing right, so that, in no circumstances, can a poultry farmer be penalised for being a poultry farmer.

There is one question I should like to ask on the point raised by Senator MacEllin with regard to the mark. Somebody asked me what was the marking to be in the future. There seems to be some confusion of thought as to how our produce is to be marked, whether it was marked in a particular way previously, and how it is going to be marked now with the change brought about by the new Constitution.

This is a Bill to make further and better provision for the purchase and sale of eggs and, incidentally, I suppose, to increase production. I do not think that anybody can have any objection to the terms of the Bill. There has been a lot of criticism of it, but I think anyone who does not like the Bill should vote against it. I approve of the Bill. In the present state of competition for the only market worth having—the British market—I think that, except we send our eggs to that market in a better condition than we are sending them there now, we will be completely wiped out. The Danes and other competitors in that market send their eggs under very much more strict regulation than is insisted upon here. Anything that would improve the marketing of eggs and, incidentally, production, and get a better price for them, should be approved of by this House.

Production has gone down considerably within the last six or eight years. There are many causes for that, some of which are obvious, and which I do not want to go into. One of the causes for the decrease in production is the cost of feeding stuffs. The price of the maize mixture for the last five or six years in the Twenty-Six Counties was practically, on an average, £2 per ton more than the cost of maize meal in the Six Counties. Together with that, the farmers got it into their heads, rightly or wrongly—and, in my opinion, wrongly—that the maize mixture was detrimental to the rearing of hens and the production of eggs. I do not agree with that. My objection to the maize mixture was that it was too dear. The only animals that I think it would be injurious to would be young pigs. The maize mixture, I can say from my own experience, is a very useful food for poultry. I know plenty of well-managed and paying poultry farms on which they feed whole oats and whole wheat once a day to their poultry. But the fact remains that the farmers got it into their heads that it was injurious, and any amount of talking will not get it out. That was one of the causes, which together with the cost of feeding stuffs, lessened production in this country.

The Minister is perfectly right in trying to get increased production of eggs. It is very important for the country that we should increase our egg production. It is very valuable, particularly to the small farmers and agricultural workers, and, in fact, to everybody in the rural areas. The best way to do that, in my opinion, would be to have better poultry houses provided for the agricultural workers. A grant should be given for the construction of these houses, and there should be more intensive propaganda and more instruction by the poultry instructresses throughout the country. The poultry instructresses call on half a dozen of the bigger farmers. These people are in very little need of instruction. They should make periodical calls on the agricultural labourers and the small farmers, and they should use all the means in their power to induce them to keep more poultry. They should instruct them in the necessity for producing more eggs—particularly winter eggs. They should teach them the proper treatment of poultry in winter and the importance of warm and clean housing. Housing is the most important factor. If that were done, I think we would increase our egg production, but we shall not do so until steps are taken in the direction I have indicated. The cost of feeding stuffs should come down. I suppose the ordinary law of supply and demand will now operate since the meal admixture is finished with.

Nobody can have any objection to this Bill. It is designed to provide for the better marketing of eggs, the increased production of eggs, and the procuring of better prices for eggs. For these reasons, I support the Bill.

Senator Baxter described this measure as "drastic". Some other Senators were inclined to agree with that description. It might be a drastic measure if we used to the utmost the powers contained in it in all cases, but the Senator will agree that no Department has used powers they have obtained for purposes of this kind to the very utmost. They were only used in the extreme cases where they were absolutely necessary. That is the intention of my Department and my own intention so far as the administration of this measure is concerned. We may have been too lenient in the past in allowing exporters on to the register two or three times after the registration had been cancelled. I should be inclined to be somewhat more drastic in that respect in the future. If a wholesaler were to contravene the provisions of the Act or the regulations on more than one occasion in a serious way, I think his registration should be cancelled and that it should not be so easy to get back as a registered wholesaler as it has been. The Pigs and Bacon Act does not arise on this Bill, but I cannot pass over what Senator Baxter said— that it did not make any improvement.

I did not say that.

It certainly made an improvement in the price of pigs. References to the reduction in our exports raises the question of cause. Senators may come in here and voice an old prejudice against the maize-meal mixture by saying it was responsible. I wonder what Senator Johnston would say, if he were speaking to the Minister for Agriculture in the British Parliament, of the decline in poultry production in that country. It is very much worse there than it is here. If he could not say that he had done anything ridiculous, such as introducing the maize-meal mixture, how could he explain the reduction in that country? Here, we are told that the "ridiculous maize-meal mixture" is responsible for everything. That alone does not explain the reduction. I wish it did because, then, my task would be very easy. If it were quite obvious that the maize-meal mixture was responsible for the reduction in production, then my task would be a simple one.

Why did the production of eggs go down in 1929? They went down by 33? per cent. from 1929 to 1931. That was before the economic war was dreamt of and before the introduction of the maize-meal mixture. Neither of them can explain that reduction and neither of them can explain the big reduction in Great Britain. I do not see the use of throwing, because of an old prejudice against the economic war—against which we were all pre judiced—the responsibility for the reduction on that episode or on the maize-meal mixture. I have thought over this matter very deeply. I said: "If the economic war has caused this, it will be easy to make things right; if the maize-meal mixture has caused it, it will also be easy to make things right." Neither of them had a great deal to do with it and the problem is going to be extremely difficult. Senator Baxter says that legislation will not effect a cure. I agree. I have no great faith in legislation as a panacea but, if we think we can improve matters by legislation, we should take the necessary steps. I can imagine Senators who are complaining of all this legislation and regulation getting up and suggesting that the Minister was doing nothing for the egg industry if there were no such regulation or legislation. All I can do is legislate and, by regulation, try to improve matters. Other steps can be taken by the producers themselves. The steepest decline in production was from 1929 to 1931. For 1938, there is the first ray of hope. The number of poultry for 1938 is up.

Did the number of poultry go down in 1929?

It began to go down after 1929.

The number of poultry is up, for the first time, in 1938 since that period, and our exports are up considerably to the end of October as compared with 1937. We have, therefore, two indications of a turning of the tide in 1938. This is the first turn since 1929. The two causes mentioned by Senator Baxter and others were dear feeding and the economic war. We are trying to get over these difficulties as well as possible. We have free entry for our eggs to the British market but we are doing even better than that. We are giving a subsidy on exports, so that we are giving our producers even a better price than the British market would give them. That was necessary because we found, when the economic war was over, that our subsidies had been higher than the tariffs and that, if we had stopped the subsidies completely at the end of the economic war, our poultry producers would find that they had lost considerably by the ending of the economic war. Therefore, we had to continue to subsidise them and I suppose we shall have to continue to subsidise them for some time longer. The maize-meal mixture will come to an end some time towards the end of the year and we shall see if there will be an improvement. I agree with Senator Baxter that if we could awaken a spirit of confidence and enterprise amongst the farmers, it would be the most useful thing we could do. Perhaps we can awaken that spirit, seeing that we are going to get better eggs produced, the best possible markets for our eggs, cheaper feeding stuffs and better housing. With all these things, we may get a feeling of confidence and enterprise.

I am rather disappointed that Senator Baxter does not think that our housing scheme will be a success. Small loans of £15 and £25 are very costly things for a Department to administer over periods of ten, 15 or 20 years. I am sure that Senator Baxter sees that point. When we have to send out reminders of amounts due and collect instalments of £1 or 30/-, it is very costly. The collection might cost almost as much as the loan itself. That is why we cut down the period of years. I should like to see what reception this scheme will get before making any changes.

I do not agree with Senator Baxter that it is impossible for farmers, however small, to have clean eggs produced. If a farmer keeps clean straw and the hens have to walk through that straw to their laying nests, their feet will be clean before reaching the nests. It is not necessary to go to the trouble of washing their feet. It is illegal to wash eggs but it is not illegal to use a damp cloth to take off any dirt that may accidentally have got on to the eggs. As Senator Baxter says, there is a lot to be said for an advertising campaign on the British market. It might give good results. We have the best bacon and the best butter on that market. We cannot say that for our eggs. If we could improve the quality of our eggs under this Bill, then we could advertise with good effect on the British market. The money would be well spent, though it would probably be a costly matter.

Senator the McGillycuddy asked what the cost of the Bill would be. I said something about the cost in my opening speech, but I did not deal with it adequately. The annual cost of the Acts up to the present is £11,000. Of that, £5,000 comes in in the way of fees from exporters, and about £6,000 is contributed by the State. The increased cost, on account of the greater inspection, will probably be about £15,000. The greater part of that will come from the increased fees. The fees are being increased from 1d. to 2d. per case of 30 dozen. That will be collected not only on the exported eggs, but on the eggs in the home market, so that it may not cost the State very much more than at present.

With regard to the comparison of prices. I gave a comparison, so far as I possibly could, with Northern Ireland prices. If we take egg for egg, as regards freshness, we are probably getting 1½d. per dozen less than in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland they are getting less than they are getting in England. We are therefore getting more than 1½d. less than the English producer. That is the margin we want to make up as a result of this legislation with regard to clean eggs.

The mark that must be put on the eggs as denoting the country of origin is not yet decided under the new Constitution, and until that question is settled up with the British Board of Trade, the mark "Irish Free State" remains. Senator McEllin raised a question about the farmer getting value where he barters his eggs. I am afraid that is a rather difficult thing for my Department to deal with. I think that would be more a matter for the Minister for Industry and Commerce when dealing with the question of barter in general. I do not think we could take it as an isolated case here and deal with it in a Bill like this. Senator O'Dwyer agrees, too, that the regulations may be too severe. I think it will not be found in practice that the regulations are too severe. They will be necessarily severe enough to try to effect an improvement, but I do not think they will be exceptionally severe. We quite realise that alterations in premises cannot be carried out immediately, and that is provided for in the Bill. An exporter's premises will automatically become registered as a wholesaler's premises provisionally. We may afterwards serve notice on him that he must improve these premises, but he will get time to do so, and he will be allowed to carry on provisionally. The same conditions will apply to the dealer. The dealer will apply for registration, stating the nature of his premises, and he will get provisional registration. He will get time to improve his premises, if an improvement is considered necessary on inspection.

I agree with Senator O'Dwyer that the co-operative societies can play a big part in encouraging the production of eggs, but I do not think we can do anything by legislation of this kind to help co-operative societies in any way. In answer to Senator Keane, I do not know what might have happened if no legislation had been passed in 1924. I think that Senator Counihan was right when he said that our competitors, like the Danish, are also subject to very strict regulations. The Danes are improving their position on the British market, but they are probably acting, to some extent, at any rate, under Government regulations with regard to cleanliness and matters of that kind. They also may be complaining about the very severe conditions imposed upon them. At any rate, it is very difficult to say what might have happened if there had been no legislation in 1924. Possibly we might not be any worse than we are at present. I agree with Senator Keane that very often a business man who would be regarded as something behind the times, who would have a small little office with no gadgets or up-to-date machinery, might get on just as well as the modern business man. In other words, as the Senator said, there is something spiritual about a business man that sometimes succeeds where modern methods failed. I should like to tell the Senator, however, that the Government cannot be spiritual.

They have no soul at all.

None, whatever. Senator Johnston is right when he says the egg industry is of enormous importance. So it is. I think at one time it held a very high place in the list of outputs of agriculture, and I should be very glad indeed if we could get it back into that important position again. A poultry farmer can become an exporter. There is no difficulty about his exporting his own eggs if he wishes to do that. The Senator dealt with the chief cause of decrease and increase in production, and referred to the cost of feeding-stuffs. He is possibly right. One other cause is disease. There are people who got so much trouble from disease in poultry that they went out of business. That is probably more true of England than of this country, because they have had a worse time from disease there than we had here. Taking the number of hens—poultry, of course, in statistics includes turkeys, geese, ducks, cockerels, etc. —over six months old, in 1927-28, which were the years when we had the biggest export, and comparing it with the numbers since, there has not been a 10 per cent. variation in the number of hens in any year since. How then can the big decrease in exports be explained, seeing that the number of our hens did not go below 90 per cent. of what they were in that year? I am sure nobody attempted to prevent the hens from laying. Still there was a very big decrease in our exports. It is held by some people—I do not know on what evidence—that there was a very much bigger consumption of eggs at home.

That may or may not be the explanation. I cannot say and I do not know on what evidence it is based. Senator Counihan also dealt with the maize-meal mixture and said, although he did not hold it himself, that it was believed to be bad for hens. That is quite true. I saw a statement myself that the maize-meal mixture had killed young chickens. I wonder do Senators ever read papers likeThe Farmers' Weekly, British periodicals catering for British farmers, and look at the answers to queries in these periodicals? In none of these answers will you see people told that chickens should be fed on maize alone. You will never see them advised to do that. They are always told to mix maize with oatmeal or barley meal or some other home-grown cereal—exactly what we have done here. You have experts giving that advice in England, where everybody has perfect freedom to feed with any meal they wish. They do, in fact, always advocate that some home-grown grain should be mixed with the feed for young chickens and the same, of course, applies to laying hens. I should say that, in advising that ration for hens, they always took into account the cost as well as the suitability of the feed but still they always advocate that type of feed. Yet, people here are prejudiced against the maize-meal mixture and we are told that whatever misfortunes may befall agriculture it is due to that mixture. I do not know if any other points were referred to in the debate. There were some smaller points, but I would suggest they might be more suitably dealt with when the Bill is going through Committee.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 7th December.