Flour and Wheatenmeal Bill, 1956—Second Stage.

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

Senators will recall the undertaking which I gave to the House on the question of temporary legislation. I undertook that such legislation would be carefully examined to see the extent to which it is still required and that, where it was necessary to retain certain powers, permanent legislation would be introduced to replace the temporary provisions. This is the permanent legislation relating to the production and price of flour and wheatenmeal.

This Bill seeks to give extended life to Orders which, in the normal way, would lapse with the expiry of the Supplies and Services Act. The Orders under which the controls are at present exercised are the Flour and Wheatenmeal Order, 1955, and the Flour and Wheatenmeal Order, 1955 (Amendment) Order, 1956. The main provisions of these Orders are:—

(a) When wheat is being cleaned preparatory to milling not more than 2½ per cent. of the wheat may be removed as screenings.

(b) Millers may not make or sell any flour or wheatenmeal other than "straight run" flour and standard wheatenmeal.

(c) Flour and wheatenmeal of different kinds may not be sold in excess of fixed maximum prices.

(d) Flour and wheatenmeal may not be sieved by bakers and others who use flour and wheatenmeal for the purposes of their business.

(e) Wheatenmeal and flour other than flour of a certain extraction may not be used in the manufacture of biscuits and confectionery. This restriction makes it illegal to use subsidised flour for the manufacture of biscuits and confectionery.

(f) The Minister may, by permit, give relief from any of the prohibitions contained in the Orders and may attach to the permits such conditions as he thinks fit.

A difference (but not a difference in principle) between the provisions of the Bill and the provisions of the Orders which will be allowed to expire is that the prices for "straight run" flour and standard wheatenmeal are specified in the Orders, while the Bill provides that the Minister may make regulations to prescribe the prices which may be charged.

It has been the practice, in administering the flour subsidy, to settle the proportions of native and imported wheat to be contained in the grist which is milled into flour and to prescribe the extraction rates at which the grist is to be milled, that is to say, how much of the products of the milling is to be taken off as flour and how much to be taken off as offal. It is proposed in the Bill to take power to prescribe these matters.

The remaining provisions are ancillary to the main provisions I have indicated. As well as the usual clauses relating to enforcement, the Bill provides that any regulations which may be made shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas, and if a resolution annulling the regulation is passed by either House within the next 21 sitting days the regulation shall be annualled, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder.

This Bill is doing in a permanent way what is at present done by Orders under the Supplies and Services Act, which is normally due to expire in March next.

Níl mórán san mBille seo gur féidir cur síos air. Mar a dúirt an t-Aire, níl dhá dhéanamh aige ach ag cóimhlíonadh na geallúna a thug sé tamall ó shoin chun deireadh do chur le hOrdaithe Práinne áirithe a bhí ag obair anso mar inneall dlí sheasamhaigh. Ar ndóis ceart na rudai sin d'achtú fé mar atá dhá dhéanamh anois agus pé cumhacht a bheadh ag an Aire í sin a bheith le feiscint i bhfoirm Achta.

I do not think there is very much that I can usefully say on this measure. As the Minister stated, he is now putting an end to certain Emergency Powers Orders and having them enacted in the form of permanent legislation. That, I think, is a step in the right direction, especially as regards such an important matter as flour and wheatenmeal.

There is one point I should like to bring to the notice of the Minister. It arises in connection with Section 6 of the Bill, the regulation and control of flour and wheatenmeal. Some time ago we had a short discussion in the Seanad as to whether it was absolutely necessary to continue the mixture of foreign wheat with home grown wheat to produce a satisfactory loaf of bread. Senators will remember, when that discussion took place, the Minister for Agriculture was present and made certain observations which I should like to recall to the House.

At that time I gave expression to the opinion that the time had come when steps should be taken to ascertain once and for all time whether it was in fact necessary to have this mixture of foreign flour, of imported wheat, for the manufacture of a satisfactory loaf here. I referred to the opinion, a scientific opinion that was given by certain Swedish experts, but the Minister for Agriculture told the House that he would not for one depend on any views that would come from outside, that it was better to have the matter decided here at home.

With a view to having that done, he said the matter was being referred to the Institute of Industrial Research and Standards. It is almost 12 months since the Minister for Agriculture made that statement, and while I am not one who would expect any hasty decision in an important matter of this kind, still the Minister for Industry and Commerce may be in a position to give some indication as to what progress has been made in having this very important matter resolved.

It is of fundamental importance, in my opinion, because it affects very closely the position of the adverse balance of payments. If it could be established beyond all doubt, and if certain prejudices could be removed in connection with the whole matter, it would be a great step forward. I would ask the Minister if he has any knowledge of what has taken place or what progress has been made in connection with this matter.

I think all Senators are agreed that any measure calculated to improve the quality of our bread and bread grist will have the support of the House. This Bill does enable a Minister to make all the necessary regulations governing the manner in which the grist is prepared for milling and is milled, and regarding the price at which it is sold, and I assume also the price of the bread. I am not sure, however, whether that comes under it, or whether it is under the regulations which are being superseded by this Bill that the Minister was enabled to reduce the size of the loaf in order to avoid increasing the price.

Bread is not dealt with in this Bill at all.

If bread is outside the scope of this Bill, I will not refer to it further. I assume that, apart from the price of bread, it may be possible that it is under this Bill that the Minister regulates the size of the loaf. The Minister does have power under this Bill to regulate the price of flour and to regulate the percentage of extraction of screenings that may be removed from the wheat. For one not an expert in milling it is intriguing to note that not more than 2½ per cent. screenings may be extracted. If wheat is of very poor quality and includes a very large percentage of seeds and other matter, I do not know how it is going to be dealt with. That is a matter of detail, I suppose, but it does strike one that a limit of 2½ per cent. might create difficulties if the wheat was of very poor quality.

I think the Minister under this Bill has very wide powers of regulation and control and I hope those powers will be used, in the main, not only to ensure a better loaf for our people, and possibly a bigger loaf, but also to ensure that a higher and still higher percentage of our bread grist is of home production. I think that investigations have shown that we can increase the percentage of home grain very considerably, almost to 100 per cent. I hold that view in face of an expert's opinion which was supplied some time ago and which with your permission, Sir, I would like to quote. It is in Volume 106, column 2049:—

"When the time came in the spring of this year when our people were no longer able to get Canadian wheat for the first time since the emergency, we had the enthralling, stimulating and surprising experience of eating bread made out of Irish wheat. Before you ate it you had to hold it out in your hands, squeeze the water out of it, then tease it out and make up your mind whether it was a handful of boot-polish or bread. If it was boot-polish, you put it on your boots or shoes. If it was bread, you tried to masticate it if you were fit."

That was the "expert" opinion on Irish wheat.

What was the date?

The date was June 1947.

You supported those views yourself.

Senator Cogan is in possession. Perhaps he would relate his remarks to the Bill before the House.

It is the Minister's duty to ensure a higher quality production and, notwithstanding the stated opinion of one of the Minister's colleagues, I believe it is possible to produce first class flour and first class bread out of native wheat. In this connection, however, it will be the duty of the Minister, or whoever occupies the Minister's position in the future, to see that the millers make some reasonable attempt to co-operate with the farmers. It is appalling to find that the policy of our millers generally is one of hostility to the native wheat grower, and every obstacle that can be placed in the way of the wheat grower is placed in his way, and every difficulty that can be created is created not only for the grower but for the miller's own agents who are trying to facilitate the growers and take the wheat from them.

That is something into which the Minister will have to look very carefully, because I have known instances where millers have deliberately held up the collection and drying of grain, with the apparent purpose of ensuring that it would go bad on the farmer's hands. We have a very difficult climate for grain growing here, a climate which will require the maximum efficiency and co-operation between the grower, the merchant and the miller, to ensure that in the comparatively short period between the time the grain is cut and when it is got to the miller's loft, it is not allowed to go bad. Any difficulties or deterioration found in regard to Irish bread have been in the main due to some neglect along the line. It may not be the farmer's fault. In many cases it is the fault of either the merchant or the miller, and the elimination of that should be a most important function of the Government Department in regard to this industry.

Once wheat heats, becomes mouldy or otherwise deteriorates, it becomes unfit for human consumption, and for that reason we would like to see greater co-operation on the part of the millers with those who are providing the raw material.

The Minister has power to fix the prices of flour under this Bill. In my opinion, he should also take power to fix the prices of wheat offals. The milling industry is a very big one in our national economy. It is, as we know, fairly heavily subsidised, and under this legislation and emergency powers, it is fairly rigidly controlled. For that reason, it is not desirable that the milling industry should be allowed to inflict serious injury upon, for example, the pig raising industry, by drastically raising the prices of offals. The Minister has a right to say that he has no power under existing legislation to fix the price of milled offals, but he has a right, if he so desires, to take legislative power under this Bill, or under some similar legislation. It is desirable and necessary that he should take that power so as to ensure that the prices of raw materials of the pig raising and poultry raising industries are not unduly increased upon the producers. He could, in that way, afford protection to these two important branches of the agricultural industry.

It is true, it must be confessed, that in raising the prices of milled offals, the millers, as far as I know, do not make additional profits for themselves. What they really do is to save something of the amount they would otherwise receive by way of subsidy. That, I would say, is all the more reason why the State should take an active part not only in fixing the prices of flour but also in fixing the prices of wheat offals.

It is desirable that a careful survey should be kept of the supply position in regard to wheat. If, as was said some years ago, and, I think, untruly said, there appeared to be a danger of a surplus, the Minister should always have the right and the power to vary not only the extraction rate of offals, but also the rate at which foreign wheat would be included. In that way, it would be possible to ensure that no matter how high wheat acreage might go in this country, it would be possible always to avoid a surplus. There would never be any need, therefore, to reduce the price of wheat in order to keep down the supply. If the Minister uses his powers wisely and in the national interests, he can ensure that wheat growing will expand, that the quality of wheat delivered to the millers will improve, and that the quality of our flour and our bread will also improve.

I would like again to stress the necessity of ensuring that our millers are vigilant and active in stretching a helping hand to the growers particularly during a bad harvest when there is excessive rainfall. It is true to say that many of our millers, and some of the biggest of them, do not want Irish wheat. They would prefer to see it abolished, and to depend entirely on importd wheat. There is prejudice and hostility there which it is the duty of any and every Government to overcome.

We all here welcome a Bill of this sort because it removes Emergency Powers Orders and brings in in a more permanent way what the Government wishes to do. During the past couple of years, many of the things that were done by Emergency Powers have been done under permanent legislation. There is not much to be said on this Bill, except to welcome it and thank the Minister for bringing it in.

I always feel that it is a pity that wheat is the sport of politics in Ireland. We ought to have a balanced policy with regard to wheat, and each year whoever is charged with the responsibility in Government for dealing with the matter—the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Minister for Agriculture—in my opinion, will have to look at the situation of Ireland with regard to the best utilisation of its land.

If it is profitable and valuable, in the national economic interest, to grow a large amount of wheat in this country, I believe the emphasis should be directed towards the growing of a large amount. On the other hand, it would be sheer folly if a large portion of our 12,000,000 acres were devoted to growing all of that crop for our needs while we could produce other crops and other products off that land which would command a much higher price on the world market. That is why I say we must have a balanced outlook with regard to wheat. If someone suggests we should grow less wheat, we must not assume that he is unpatriotic——

The policy on the growing of wheat is not the issue on this Bill. We are not going to have a general discussion on wheat-growing now.

I want to refer to the mills. I live in an area that sends in a large amount of grain to the various mills. There are three large mills there. There were surprisingly few complaints this autumn, with regard to the treatment that was meted out by the millers. In two of the largest mills, I did not hear of any complaints: I did, with regard to one mill. I understand that the Minister for Agriculture told the directors of that mill that if they were refusing to take Irish wheat, he would consider having their quota of foreign wheat reduced because it was possible that that mill would prefer to deal with the manufacture of flour and wheatenmeal from imported corn rather than from Irish corn.

There is little else to say, except that whoever is in charge in Government will have to consider what quantity of grain is produced for the production of flour and wheatenmeal, considering the wide national interest. It is very satisfactory that our people have developed a seed that will now produce a far better wheat and a far better grain and flour than when we started growing flour here extensively about 25 years ago. I presume that our technicians and our technical experts in Glasnevin, and such places, will be able to improve that. Maybe the request which Senator Kissane made some six or eight months ago to the Minister for Agriculture to have the matter investigated by our Bureau of Industrial Research and Standards at Ballymun will have the result that they will be able to report favourably on Irish wheat. I think it would be a wonderful achievement if we reached a stage where we could produce an article for our own needs that would give us a satisfactory flour and wheatenmeal. I welcome this Bill particularly as a piece of permanent legislation dealing with a matter of this nature.

This Bill is merely doing in the form of permanent legislation what is at present done by means of Orders. Therefore, I do not want to travel over the wider grounds as to the wisdom or otherwise of growing wheat here and as to the quantity we should grow. I thought that issue was rapidly receding into the limbo of the past.

Along with the Minister who raised it.

I will let the Senator have that out with the Minister when he returns to discuss another Bill.

The question of the appropriate grist to use has been raised by bakers and millers and has been the subject of public discussion in the Press. We can bake any kind of loaf we want to bake, so long as we are satisfied to eat it ourselves. We can have an all-Irish loaf or a 90 per cent. Irish loaf, or we can balance the grist in any way we like. We have to satisfy only two conditions. The first condition is that whatever grist we adopt is palatable to our people or that they can be induced to eat it, either by perseverence or national necessity. The second condition is that we ought to have regard to the possibilities of producing here a loaf which will satisfy our own requirements by utilising the corn which can be grown on Irish land. You can have a 100 per cent. Irish loaf or a grist balance as between Irish and foreign wheat. The question at issue is what is the best balance to strike.

Some time ago, the millers asked, because of the damp season this year and because they felt that the Irish wheat was very moist this year, that we should produce a grist of 60 per cent. imported and 40 per cent. Irish wheat. I did not agree to that but, for the time being, I said they could produce a grist based on 50 per cent. imported and 50 per cent. native wheat. At the same time, the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards was asked to examine this matter with the view to seeing what was the best advice they could tender, having regard to all the technical problems which required examination around that question. They have had this matter before them for about six or eight months. Speaking from recollection, I think they found they needed a technical officer to undertake the researches which were necessary. I think they have advertised for him, but, whether or not they have succeeded in getting him, I cannot say. We asked them, about three weeks ago, to expedite the issue of the report to us so that we could use it for the purpose of our subsequent discussions with the millers and the Institute know we are anxious to get that report without any avoidable delay.

At the same time, the millers' request for a 60-40 grist or a 50-50 grist has also been referred to the Institute to see what they think of that question. They could, of course, make an interim report on that issue if that course commends itself to them.

Senator Cogan raised the question of the price of offal. I do not think that that is the function of the Minister for Industry and Commerce. At the moment, the price of offal is not fixed. I do not say that you can easily fix it, nor do I think that it is advantageous to the stock-raising community that it should be fixed. The likelihood is that it might be fixed at a level which they would regard as uneconomic from the point of view of raising live stock. I think that approximately 50 per cent. of animal feeding stuffs come into this country. It is not, therefore, easy to see in what way you can fix the price of Irish-produced offal. The general claim of the farming community has been that they should get their feeding stuffs as cheaply as possible. To-day, they have access to the markets of the world in order to get them at the lowest possible price. The price of Irish offal is allowed to reach its own level on the home market and that level is approximately the level at which the imported offal is landed here. We have to take into consideration the price of the imported offal when fixing the subsidy because, unless we get from the miller what he gets for the offal, we should lose considerably on subsidy if we were to fix the price low for offal while, in fact, the miller or the distributor of the offal was getting a higher price for it. If Senator Cogan reflects on the fact that we import 50 per cent. of our offal, he will see the difficulty of fixing an Irish price and see the dangers of it from the point of view of those who want to feed their stocks in the most economical way. I think that covers all the points which were raised.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for next sitting day.