This is an amendment to paragraph 3 of the Schedule to the Principal Act and states that the appropriate number of subsequent ordinary members of the agency nominated by consumer interests shall not be fewer than two. I referred to this provision during my remarks on Second Stage.
Milk (Regulation of Supply) (Amendment) Bill, 1996: Committee and Final Stages.
This is a technical amendment.
If I understand the Minister correctly the matters I raised are the responsibility of the EU. Does that mean that they are matters of shared responsibility? If I have a problem or a concern about any aspect of the import of milk, do I take it up with the European Community rather than taking it up with the Minister for Agriculture? I understand from the response that the Minister has nothing to do with it. The controls for the import, export and price of milk are a matter for the European Union regulations. Is my understanding correct?
Yes, in general. In different regions within the European Union there may arise, from time to time, concerns such as those expressed by the Senator which may have a particular impact in a specific region. It is the right of those who feel they have a grievance to take that up with the European authorities, the exporting agency or with the member state where it is felt that something is proceeding which is unfair or to the disadvantage of those involved. It is a person's prerogative to take such a matter up with the European Union, with the exporting country and agents.
The Act states that the Minister shall, in the year 1997 and every third year thereafter, prescribe by regulation an election day to be an election day for producers and members. As I mentioned in my contribution, last year I said that the election would not be held in 1996. According to the legislation the elections will be held in 1997 and the Minister has given a guarantee to this effect. There is much homework to be done before the election, however, such as the setting up of constituencies and so on. Would that cause such delay that the elections might not be held in 1997?
The Minister said the constituencies will be made by order. Will we have an opportunity to discuss them here? There will be five producers and the Minister said there will be two constituencies. Two will probably be elected from one and three from another. Will we have an opportunity of discussing how these constituencies will be established?
I mentioned adequate compensation. When this Bill was initiated some processors were unhappy because they thought the prices they paid to producers would, in the future, be dictated to them by the agency. Different processors pay different prices. Is there a hope that the milk agency could establish a uniform price as heretofore so that all liquid milk suppliers would get the same prices?
The answer is no.
I thought it would be.
The best advice available at present is that the agency intends to hold the elections in 1997, notwithstanding the reservations which the Senator correctly held in relation to previous indications. The logistics have finally been worked out and it appears that we can honestly say these elections will take place in 1997, regardless of what other elections may take place that year.
We are sure the other elections will take place.
In relation to the formation of the respective constituencies, consideration and discussion will take place with those directly involved, but there need not necessarily be a provision to this effect unless something arises at a later stage. It is not envisaged that the discussion will arise in this or the other House. It is assumed that the procedures put in place will be sufficient to meet the requirements and that those structures will have adequate regard for the varying and very often diverse interests of all concerned, with a view to ensuring that the best deal is worked out to meet everybody's requirements.
Senator McGowan was concerned about the difference in price which consumers had to pay; I am worried about the difference in price producers might get from different processors. Does the National Milk Agency have the power to correct anomalies in that respect?
No. My first short answer to that question is still correct relating to the powers of the agency with regard to the spreading of an equal price over the entire region. That would be illegal under EU law and could have inter-Community consequences. As land borders exist throughout Europe, the levelling off mentioned by the Senator could have serious consequences. It is contrary to competition law.
In relation to the issue raised by Senator Kiely, it would be a very dangerous practice to give such authority to a milk agency or anyone else. The efficient co-operatives pay the highest price and we are looking for efficiency and high quality. To a degree there is a contract between the farmers and the co-operatives concerning prices. One could not attempt to prescribe the fixing of milk prices by law. As the Minister of State has said, it is against EU law.
The Minister of State and the Senator have misunderstood me. I can go to the North of Ireland and buy a two-litre carton of milk for 65p and in this part of Ireland it is 95p. There should be an explanation for this that the ordinary consumer can understand. The Minister of State said that we cannot control the price of milk and we will never control it or allow others to control it. That avoids giving a straight answer to a simple question.
This is a question of discounting the price of milk at supermarket level and it has gone on for years. I have spoken about this in the Seanad and the Dáil. One cannot control it and I have objected to it. Dunnes Stores were famous for it. The idea behind discounting is to bring down the price of milk to the producer.
They are not succeeding.
They are not succeeding but that is the idea behind it.
The Senator has missed the point of the question.
The practice is being continued. Dunnes Stores imported milk into the Donegal area and brought it to Dublin, as the Senator knows. This has been a bone of contention with farmers for years. Discounting will continue and we can do nothing to stop it.
This matter has nothing to do with section 3 of the Bill.
It does because we are dealing with producers and their election.
That is a very tenuous connection.
I refer to section 6, subsection (2)(c) which says that:
in the opinion of the Agency, provides adequate compensation to the producer for raw milk supplied under the contract throughout the year, taking into account, in particular, in relation to the winter months,
the economic costs of production of raw milk of suitable quality...
The last line is very important. If, according to Senator D'Arcy and the Minister of State, the agency has no such function, of what use is this in the Bill?
The Senator is quoting from——
The Milk (Regulation of Supply) Act, 1994.
We are not dealing with that matter. We are dealing with the Bill.
This is an amendment.
We are dealing with the Bill before the House.