I move amendment No. 1:—
To delete Section 4 and substitute a new section as follows:—
"The board for a joint district, with the consent of the Minister, may within the joint district engage in the sale of surplus milk for manufacturing purpose and for that purpose may acquire premises and equipment and do all such things as may be necessary for the purpose of carrying on such business."
When the Second Reading of this Bill was going through the House, I expressed some doubts about the wisdom of conferring powers on the milk boards—powers which would certainly be conferred if we were to agree to pass this section in the form in which it stands. I had not had, up to then, time to understand the implications of this section. Previous Acts and Orders were not, in fact, then available to me, but I gave the Minister and the House my views on the section as it then appeared to me.
I have had an opportunity since of studying the implications of this section and, as a result, I have put an amendment down. I would like the Minister and the House to approach my amendment as objectively and as dispassionately as possible. I assure the Minister that I have no desire whatever to hinder or obstruct the Dublin Milk Board in improving the milk supply and the provision of milk within their area.
I do not propose to stand in the way of progress or in the way of whatever reasonable facilities are required for the purpose of improving the milk supply. I submit to the Minister and to the House that, as I see them, the powers which are sought in Section 4 are such as ought not to be conferred on the Dublin District Milk Board, the Cork District Milk Board or on any other board in this country at the present time. Before we decide that such powers as these are necessary, we ought to examine every other aspect of the problem for which this section is drafted to provide.
The section provides that, with the consent of the Minister, the board, that is, the board for a joint district, may 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 depots 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. When I raised this matter on the Second Reading, I understood the Minister to say that the demand for this section came from the Dublin District Milk Board and that it was necessary, because one had to make provision against periods of shortage and the possibility of supplies not being available within the areas of the Dublin or Cork District Milk Boards, and that the milk boards ought to have the power to go out and sell milk in any other areas where there were shortages. I think the Minister also indicated that there were periods of the year when there was a surplus of milk in particular areas and that some provision ought to be made under this Bill to meet such a situation. It is generally indicated that nothing is being achieved under these powers which was not already achieved under emergency Orders in 1945 or 1946.
I submit to the House and to the Minister that it appears to me to be out of place that the Oireachtas should vest authority in a body such as the Dublin District Milk Board to set up shop either within or outside its area for the purpose of selling milk. I cannot claim to have very much knowledge of how the trade is conducted within the city boundary; that is governed by legislation and by regulation. I do not understand why it is that a board consisting of producers, retailers and wholesalers should require powers to set up shop within the city to sell milk against their own members. I think that is something which ought not to be encouraged. The Dublin and Cork District Milk Boards have power to make levies on their members and have power to collect milk. If they want to do this kind of thing they would be financed in a certain way and, with the milk at their disposal, I could visualise their ability to put a number of people who are at present engaged in the sale of milk in the city out of business. I feel that this is something which we must guard against—this sort of socialism in the milk trade. I trust that the House will not lightly commit itself to a situation such as that.
There is the other point also that the milk board may go outside its own area. The section says:
"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..."
As I said in this House on the last occasion on which I spoke, the Dublin District Milk Board are free to sell milk in towns such as Tullamore, Mullingar, Cavan or Navan—though perhaps Navan is within the joint district—where milk may be scarce on certain occasions.
The problem of milk production in this country at the moment is one which has agitated everybody concerned with the future of the live-stock and the dairying industries. It is a problem which is going to prove a considerable headache for the Minister for a long time to come. I think it is very important that any approach which is being made by the Minister or by any of his ministerial colleagues to the problem of trying to get increased milk production will not be such as actually to have the effect of cutting down production.
I submit that the Minister should give very careful thought to that aspect of this section under which powers are going to be utilised in a particular way. Let us say that milk producers in an area such as Athlone decide that the price of milk is too low. They get together and they threaten to withhold supplies if the price is not raised. Such a situation came about recently. I do not recall whether it happened in Athlone, but anyhow it came about in some part of that district. The ministerial answer to a situation like that could very well be that the milk which would be stored up within the Dublin District Milk Board area could be transported to an area like that and the Dublin District Milk Board could set up shop there and proceed with the sale of milk.
The Minister is well acquainted with farming and has a knowledge of the ways of farmers. I wonder is that the position in which he would like to put himself or any of his successors? Anyhow, the powers sought under this section would put the Minister in the position that he might very well be forced to give his consent to the opening of milk shops in remote areas. If such powers as these were available recently when the people in the Athlone district threatened to withdraw the supplies of milk, I wonder would they be used. That is the fear of the farmers.
While you hear a great deal of talk about the farmers being compelled to do this, that and the other thing, there are other people in the country whom one, at times, would love to apply compulsion to also, but nobody ever thinks of applying it to them. Our problems would not be half as difficult if something could be done with these others, but I am not going into that matter. I am submitting to the Minister and the House that there ought not to be any fear on the part of milk producers anywhere in the country that there was authority vested in the Dublin Milk Board which, in certain circumstances, could be utilised against farmers in another part of the district to compel them to sell milk at a price under production costs. I do not know what the Minister's view is about the price of milk or about the just price of milk. He is going to have that determined in the Bill and he is going to find an answer—I hope.
Apparently the Minister for Industry and Commerce himself felt that there was something in the farmers' case recently, because, when the threat was made to withhold supplies, the Minister revoked the Order fixing prices. But suppose these other powers were there and suppose you had stored up quantities of milk, tinned, condensed or anything else, I wonder what might happen? I think there might be the temptation to utilise the Dublin Milk Board and the powers with which it is vested to go into these districts and open up businesses against local people. I think that is very undesirable, not for one reason alone, but for a variety of reasons, not the least being once you do that sort of thing you are going to dam up completely the production of milk in these areas. Any of us who have any experience and any of us who are engaged in milk production know the difficulty of maintaining milk production to-day. It is becoming more difficult as the days and years pass. Unless we are going to cut down the production of milk in the country as a whole it is absolutely essential that we keep people as much as possible in production in the traditional dairying areas.
What, then, is going to happen if, say, quite legitimately, in a period of shortage, the Dublin Milk Board go into a district to provide milk? When will they go out of that district? At what time will they determine to close up their business and take their departure? Once they go in, my view is that they are going to stay. To the extent which the Dublin Milk Board or the Cork Milk Board could open up a business in an area outside their own areas and go into the trade of selling milk, I think you are going to cut down on milk production. That is speaking from the point of view of the effect of these powers in this particular way on the production of milk.
On the wider issue, the Dublin Milk Board should not be vested with such powers as these at all. That is something which is not open to argument. I do not think there is any necessity for these powers to be given to them at all. There is one other point. I think the Minister said on the last occasion that this board was a democratically elected body and that we could trust them. Perhaps. I do not know the people on the board at all and I am not particularly interested from that point of view. My information is that the board has not been consulted on this matter; they have not asked for these powers; the producers have not asked for them, and that rather than seek these powers they are totally opposed to them being vested in the board at all. That is my understanding of how the matter stands.
I want to say, finally, that I regard the whole problem of milk production in the country to-day as one of our most critical, if not the most critical, farming problem. The Minister has his hands more than full at the moment. He has any number of critics and I do not want to be amongst them. I want to see greater production of everything in the country but I particularly want to see greater production of milk in every field, on every farm and from every cow. I want to see greater production per man engaged in dairying. If the Minister is after the same thing he will have to approach this whole problem very cautiously indeed. There is no use in the Minister saying to me that I want to stir up agitation; that I want to head an agitation or to engage in an agitation on behalf of the milk producers.
That is not my view or attitude in this matter. I want to put the Minister wise. I do not think he is wise. I think the Minister ought to take counsel with the producers of milk in Dublin, Cork and other areas and see what their reaction is to the powers which he is trying to pass on to the Dublin and Cork Milk Boards. I could go out into a wider debate in regard to the bigger problem which is facing the country in regard to dairying in the country generally, but I will not do so. I am putting this amendment, which reads:—
The board for a joint district with the consent of the Minister may within the joint district engage in the sale of surplus milk for manufacturing purpose and for that purpose may acquire premises and equipment and do all such things as may be necessary for the purpose of carrying on such business.
I know that at certain periods of the year there is, within the Dublin and Cork milk district, a surplus of milk. Years ago, when the Dublin milk suppliers were faced with this problem, many in the old farmers' organisation discussed the possibility of erecting a creamery in those days to handle surplus milk at certain periods of the year. I realised that there must be some power in the hands of somebody to take over the milk which the farmers offered and make good use of it. Milk is a very expensive product nowadays and we cannot afford to let it go to waste in the farmers' cans along the roadsides. It must be taken over by somebody and it must be processed or manufactured.
I suggest to the Minister that the Dublin Milk Board has done everything that there is any obligation upon it to do. If there is a shortage of milk outside Dublin, the way to make up for that shortage is not by taking the milk out of the Dublin areas but by going in among the local people, encouraging them, getting them together and trying to stimulate greater interest on the part of producers locally and try to get the local need for milk supplied by local people. I have tried to approach this whole problem in a reasonable way. I have no particular bee in my bonnet.
It is not going to affect me or the part of the country in which I am mainly interested, but fundamental principles are involved in the proposition embodied in Section 4 of the Bill. My information is that the producers, and especially the producers' represenatives on the Dublin Milk Board, have not sought these powers for the board at all. I would urge upon the Minister that a wise course to adopt would be to reconsider this before putting it to the House.