If this Bill were as simple as the Minister represents it to be there would not be very much need for discussion. He has dealt with what he sets out as the main purpose of the Bill under Section 3. This section will give powers to the board to do a number of things with the ultimate object of increasing milk production. I think everybody will welcome any steps which any Minister for Agriculture may take in this country for the purpose of increasing milk production, but it is important that these steps should be wisely directed and that we should be reasonably certain that good results will accrue as a result of the policy enunciated by the Minister.
The problem of milk production to-day, as the Minister has very good reason to appreciate, is not the most simple one confronting him. Fortunately or unfortunately we have all got a past and sometimes it makes our present very unhappy. I am afraid that the Minister at the moment, because of his statements in the past, must find himself really up against a difficult situation in trying to resolve this very contentious problem of milk supplies, prices and production in the country. In so far as this Bill is going to make provision to secure our milk supplies and increase them, I am ready to give the Minister all the facilities he needs.
I thought that, when the Minister was referring to how the powers under Section 3 were to be operated, he would have given some indication as to whether any action was going to be taken to ensure that the number of attested herds in the areas under the jurisdiction of these boards was going to be increased. I expected him to tell us what was being done and what his ministerial policy would be in that respect. What are we doing to get a clean bill of health in the milk yields within the Dublin and Cork areas and then throughout the country as a whole? I think that is a most important matter. I think it is an urgent and vital problem. It is an aspect of milk production upon which we should have to-day a clear-cut and progressive policy.
Of course, a great deal will require to be done with our soil if we are going to make progress from the point of view of milk yields and costs. What is the Minister going to do in regard to the broadening out of the artificial insemination stations which he found operating when he came into office? We have experience in many parts of the country of what can be done operating from Grange in County Meath. As far as I am concerned, I am prepared to back the Minister or any Minister for Agriculture in the extension of that policy to the whole country if needed. Facts will be the most effective method of propaganda for the farmers in order to create this atmosphere and this mental attitude towards the question.
With regard to Section 4 of the Bill, I have seen some criticisms of it and of the powers that are going to be taken under it. I have heard what the Minister said to-day but at the moment I do not know whether he is right or wrong. The Minister will have to clarify the position for me somewhat more in order to convince me that there is not real danger in this section; that it is not an unwise section to begin with and if operated in a particular way it could just have disastrous consequences from the point of view of milk production. To begin with, I want to say these are Emergency Powers Orders which were conceded to the Dublin Milk Board, but these powers were given to the Minister in those days in a period of emergency but that is not an argument for embodying these powers in this legislation. We must be convinced on the reasons as they exist at the moment and not on emergency conditions.
In a time of crisis sensible democrats are always prepared to concede to the Minister, who has the power and responsibility, power and authority to deal with an emergency in the only way which is effective—that is, by giving him powers which are practically absolute. It seems to be that under this section, if I have read it aright, the board for a joint district, that is, the Dublin or Cork Milk Board —the Cork Milk Board, apparently, has not got these powers but sought by a resolution to have these powers conceded to them in 1948, but they were not extended to them; the powers have been conceded to the Dublin Milk Board—can go down to a milk depôt in Athlone, Mullingar, Cavan, Ballina or Buncrana. I speak subject to correction. The Dublin Milk Board is a board drawn from an area of the country where there are registered suppliers within the jurisdiction of the board's authority, mainly Dublin, Kildare, Louth, Meath, Wicklow. I do not know if it extends any farther. I want to be told by the Minister the purpose of giving to this board authority to go down to open shops for the sale of milk in parts of the country maybe 100 miles from Dublin City. If that is the position I am all against it.
The Minister may tell me there is no intention to do that. If he tells me that that is not what is meant, then I do not understand English. At any rate, that is how the matter looks to me and I want clarification on the matter as I do not want to go on building up a case against the Bill under a misconception. It is the implications in the section with which I am in conflict. Section 4 states:—
"(1) The board for a joint district with the consent of the Minister may, within and without the joint district, engage in the business of selling milk and for that purpose may purchase, prepare and sell milk and milk products, acquire premises and equipment, establish depôts for the sale of milk and milk products, accumulate and maintain a reserve of dried and condensed milk and milk containers and do all such things as may be necessary for the purposes of carrying on such business."
Unless I cannot understand English, it seems to me that this board operating in Dublin can come down and open a business in the town of Cavan, secure a premises, store milk, establish a milk depôt and build up reserves of dried and condensed milk. I am not for giving the board these powers and I am suspicious of the purpose for which these powers are put in the Bill. The board, as I understand it, is at the moment, as the Minister said, a democratic board and will not do anything against the farmers. But let it be understood that this board covers the areas which may be classified as the registered areas. In the areas run by this Dublin body the producers, retailers and all the people concerned in the milk trade are registered by this board. Now the board may step into other parts of the country altogether and open a business.
People in Athlone or Mullingar decided recently that they were not getting a sufficiently high price for milk. If they decided to withhold their milk —I am not passing judgment on that decision at all—under this section of the Bill the Dublin Milk Board could go there, open its depôt and supply milk, and I am not prepared to give it that authority at all. I am not prepared to see the State vest a group of people who have jurisdiction over a certain area with authority to go into another area to trade milk under conditions that are at the least open to question. I do not want them to get these powers in the form in which we might very easily agree to pass them to-day without a full understanding of their implications.
Things are happening in dairying at present that are, from any point of view, very unsatisfactory. I can speak with the experience of a farmer engaged in dairying. I realise that there are many people who quarrel with those farmers in certain districts who say that the price of milk is too low. There is the producer's point of view and the consumer's point of view, but the producer is not always wrong; and while the Minister's point of view at the moment may be somewhat different from what it was this day 12 months, conditions are no more favourable to dairy farmers to-day than they were 12 months ago, but more difficult— perhaps, however, they are not more difficult, because this time last year the weather was truly appalling. Suppose that a Minister were in control—I do not suggest that the present Minister would do this sort of thing—so rash as to try to use these powers in a district such as I have mentioned, what would happen?
The difficulty of keeping people in dairying to-day is very considerable. It is no exaggeration to say that. There are people from dairying districts here who can speak with the same knowledge as I have. I am not going into all the conditions that weigh with dairy farmers, but the difficulty is there and I do not see that difficulty resolved by setting up an authority with powers regarding prices. You are holding a big stick over the farmers who supply towns 50 or 100 miles from Dublin by saying that you can take a store of dried milk which has been built up in Dublin and supply the people with it and if those farmers do not keep in production they will not have any markets at all. Instead of all that what the Minister and his colleagues in the Government should apply their minds to is keeping people in production and encouraging them by every means. It is very difficult to keep people in this business around our towns. It is a seven-day-a-week job and the people who work in towns do not work seven days a week. We do not want to see dried milk taking the place of liquid milk in these areas. If there are wise people in the Civil Service who want these powers to be there so that they can be used on some particular day, then I am not prepared to give them to them.
I put this aspect of the question because things are going too far in this direction, not only in agriculture but in other fields as well. I see signs of a threat to the dairying industry as a whole from this sort of ministerial or Government policy, which is used in a subtle way and which can be very effective for the time being but in the end is disastrous. I am arguing this case because I dislike that policy intensely. I do not think that boards set up under State authority should have the right to go into business as retailers. I would leave the people who are in the retail trade in milk alone. I do not see why the Dublin Milk Board should have authority to register people, collect sums of money from them for registration and then go into competition with the people from whom those sums were collected. I do not see any justification at all for that.
I can see another development and that is why I am stressing this. I saw recently that the Dairy Disposals Board, which was called by that name because it was established to dispose of creameries and is a semi-Government or perhaps wholly Government institution, took over a co-operative society in the Midlands—not a dairy society but a shop.
I do not know what the circumstances are, but no matter what they are it is inadvisable. It is all wrong that Government institutions should be set up under privilege and allowed to use the funds at their disposal for competition with men and women who have to earn their daily bread by the services they can give the public, and who have nothing to fall back on but these services, who have not the State behind them or funds upon which they can make a levy if their business is not as well managed as it might be. I just do not know what Government policy in this regard is. I have no intention of spreading myself on this at all, but there are things which seem to me to hang together on which I wish to question ministerial policy, and on which I want clarification.
I understand that we are paying £2,000,000 for imports of butter, much more than we spent last year. My information is that we will have in the City of Dublin enough foreign butter to supply the people of the city for the summer and perhaps into the autumn. Working on that line our dairy farmers will not sell any of this season's butter to Dublin citizens until the tourist season is well under way. Are we then to be in a position to stock up supplies, store a reserve, and say this time 12 months to the dairy farmers: "We have actually a surplus. You may talk of higher prices for milk, but look at what we have got: more butter than our people are able to eat. The best thing for you people is not to talk too much of an increase in price because we may be in a position to export"?
That may be the technique which has been carefully thought out in order to level out matters as far as the dairy farmers are concerned. That, however, will not resolve all the problems which confront our dairy farmers. While I hold no brief for the people who pursue a policy, one might say, of unwise agitation that may almost threaten the children, the hospitals and people who require milk every couple of hours in the day, at the same time we must be wise and read the signs.
From what I can gather, unless I completely misunderstand the situation, the Minister is getting powers in this Bill which would enable him or his successor to break a strike of farmers, if farmers decided that they could not afford to do so and so at the price. These powers are there as I see it, and I am not prepared to give this or any other Minister authority which he can pass on to a board and so put that board in any such position. There are plenty of people withdrawing their services in this State, day after day and week after week, and no extravagant measures are adopted to get them to go back to their work.
I do not know any dairy farmer who does not want to continue his traditional way of life. These men have been brought up on the land and are accustomed to live stock. They take a pride in them and they are not living in their natural way when separated from them. Only conditions of the most difficult type will turn these men from the traditional type of farming to which they are accustomed, but dairy farmers to-day are up against problems of labour and costs of every kind which make their work much more difficult, and if the Minister or any civil servant or anybody else thinks that we will get an increase in milk production, that we will encourage milk production, by taking powers such as these for use in a moment of emergency, they completely misunderstand the situation.
I agree with the Minister that there are a number of things we can do to help the dairy farmers, but it seems to me that we have got a coated pill in this document. I do not know whether I misunderstand it, or whether the Bill, as it is drafted, gives power to do much more than is the intention, but so far as I am concerned that section, as it stands in the Bill, cannot have my support for the reasons I have given, and I hope the Minister will clarify the position and will be prepared to indicate that no board for the setting up of which he seeks this power will be set up to do trading in the small towns against those who have been doing that job for the people in those urban areas from one generation to another.