Committee on Finance. - Agricultural Produce (Fresh Meat) (Amendment) Bill, 1937—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The main Act connected with agricultural produce (fresh meat) was passed in 1930. Since then there have been points arising out of it that were obviously worthy of consideration in an amending Bill. A number of these points have accumulated, and this Bill is intended to deal with them. In the first place, Section 2 of the Bill gives the Minister discretion to refuse an application for registration. At the present moment there is a certain doubt about that. It is thought by some people that if an applicant were refused registration he might perhaps, by going to the courts, be in a position to compel the Minister to grant the application. I think everybody will agree that there should be some discretion left to the Minister to refuse an application, because it is quite obvious that if a person were to set up in opposition to a person already in the trade, no good purpose would be served. Therefore, there should be the usual discretion that is given to the Minister under all these Bills, of refusing an application where there are at present adequate facilities for anybody who wants to dispose of pork, lambs, or whatever the particular line may be. There are, as a matter of fact, 38 licensed premises registered under the Fresh Meat Act. There are 34 exporting pork, 16 exporting mutton and lamb, and three have beef exporters' licences. That shows, of course, that some of them are engaged in more than one business. At the moment there is nobody exporting fresh beef. There was only a very small business in it at any time, and the beef was exported to Great Britain. There has been a prohibition against the export of fresh beef to Great Britain for the last five years, and therefore there is no business in that line being done.

Section 2, sub-section (2), of this Bill removes from the Minister the obligation to have premises inspected on application. If anybody were to apply for a fresh-meat licence under the present Act, the Minister must carry out inspection of the premises, and must give a fortnight's notice of his intention to do so. Where a person's application has been turned down on more than one occasion, it is hardly fair that every time that person makes an application the State should be put to the expense of having to serve notice that the place would be inspected on such a date, and actually carry out that inspection, but such is the position under the present law, and it is sought to repeal that in this Bill.

Section 3 of this Bill deals with Section 13 of the Principal Act. That Act provided for a deposit of £12 10s. with each application for an exporter's licence, and the retention of that deposit if that licence were granted. Since the Bacon Act was passed the position has been very much changed, because, under the legislation dealing with pigs and bacon, premises must be inspected in the same way as they were formerly inspected in regard to the export of fresh meat. In the case of a factory which has already been inspected, and where the premises are properly constructed, and so on, there does not seem to be any justification for compelling the proprietor to lodge £12 10s. if he wishes to go into the export of pork or lamb. In fact, this Bill seeks to remove the obligation on an applicant of lodging £12 10s. where he has already a licence under the Bacon Act as passed last year. Section 3, sub-section (2) seeks to bring this provision into operation as from 1st July last, because since that date, when the Bacon Act came into operation, there have been at least, I think, three applications. They happened to be from small factories—the big ones were already licensed—near the Border that had to make an application for exporting their offals. From the point of view of those small factories, £12 10s. is rather a substantial amount, and the Department has not collected that £12 10s. in the hope that the Dáil may pass this Bill. It is, therefore, sought to make this section operate as from the 1st July last, so that those three small factories to which I have referred may be permitted to retain that £12 10s. which they would have been compelled to lodge under the original legislation.

Section 4 deals with the certificate given by a veterinary examiner. Under Section 37 of the original Act, it would appear that if the veterinary examiner were to adhere strictly to the Act he would have to give a certificate for every carcase and part of a carcase condemned as unfit for human consumption. In a number of factories —sometimes big, sometimes small— the veterinary examiner has a very difficult day's work on some occasions, because in some of the medium-sized factories and the small factories in particular a great part of the killing is done on the one day, perhaps on a fair day or a market day. The veterinary examiner has a very busy day, and it would be very difficult for him to fill up a certificate in every case where a part of a carcase is condemned. If this Bill is agreed to, this section will permit him to cover all his condemnations in one certificate. It does not make any difference, as far as efficiency goes, but it does relieve him of a great deal of filling up forms, signing them, and so on. It permits him to short circuit his work as far as that is concerned, but it does not relieve him in any way of his inspection work, which must be carried out as it always has been.

Section 5 deals with the minimum fee payable by holders of pork exporters' licences. Under the Agricultural Produce (Fresh Meat) Acts, there were certain minimum fees set out, but they have of course, to a large extent, been replaced by the fees under the Pigs and Bacon Act. Considerable fees will be payable under the Pigs and Bacon Act, because there is a fee payable, on the same principle as under the original Fresh Meat Act, for every pig slaughtered. I should perhaps go back to the original idea when the main Act was brought in in 1930. It was foreseen at the time that a veterinary surgeon must be employed, whether whole time or part time, for each of those factories that were getting fresh meat exporting licences; and naturally it was considered at the time by the Government that there should be a minimum fee, so that people would not come into this business for the sake of exporting a very small quantity of fresh meat in the year, but still entailing quite considerable expense on the State in the way of veterinary examination.

Therefore, there was a minimum fee prescribed for every applicant. There is, of course, a minimum fee also under the Bacon Act, but suppose we take it that a bacon factory is maintaining a veterinary surgeon as an inspector, and they were to go into the pork trade as well, it is considered that there is no justification for putting a minimum fee on the pork licence as well as the bacon licence, because there is no additional expense on the State. The veterinary surgeon is already there, and it only means a little extra work for him, for which perhaps he may have to be paid a little more if it is a part time post. Of course, if he is a regular employee of the Department of Agriculture, in other words a civil servant, then he is expected to do a man's work and is not paid any more for it. In any case there would be no point in charging a minimum fee as a pork exporter to that bacon factory, and it is laid down here in Section 5 that that fee should be dropped—that is the minimum fee for a fresh beef exporter's licence where the applicant is already a holder of a bacon licence.

Under Section 5 there are set out paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). Paragraph (a) deals with a simple case where only a pork exporter's licence is held by a bacon curer. Paragraph (b) deals with such a person who held also another licence under the Fresh Meat Acts, such as a beef exporter's licence or a mutton exporter's licence, and (c) deals with such a person who held two or more exporter's licences other than a beef exporter's licence. There are therefore, different divisions under (a), (b) and (c), and they are dealt with in that way in the Bill. It is necessary to set them out in that way, because the original 1930 Act follows on those lines. I do not know if Deputies who were here in 1930 will remember that the Fresh Meat Act, 1930, did apply also to goats and horses. As far as my recollection goes, I do not know if any fresh meat exporter ever did actually apply for a licence dealing with horses, but the Act did actually apply. Finally, it is desirable to bring Section 5 into operation as from 1st January, 1937, because the Pigs and Bacon Act was brought in on 1st April, 1937. A number of matters which have been dealt with since 1st April, 1937, have to be regularised by this measure and, therefore, it has to be made retrospective so far as that particular section is concerned.

Has the Minister any explanation to offer as regards Section 2?

I did explain Section 2.

What is the meaning of the new powers?

I have explained already that the section gives the Minister discretion to refuse an application for registration. It is held by some of our legal advisers that we have got that discretion. There are others who hold a contrary opinion, and there is a certain doubt. It is held by those who say we have not that discretion that if an application were refused it is possible the courts might hold that the Minister is compelled to grant a licence, provided the premises were properly constructed, as laid down by the Act. It is quite obvious that in certain cases the Minister should have discretion to refuse, as he has under Acts of a similar type. It happens sometimes that a person is in the fresh pork business, and some business rival wants to go out against him. He applies for a licence. That does not do any good to the producer of pigs. It may give a certain gratification to the person applying, in order to put the other man out of business, but I do not think it should be encouraged from the State point of view. Therefore, I think the Minister should have this discretion.

I suppose I have often given expression to this complaint before, but a practice has grown up in the House under which Ministers, when introducing measures, go on to explain what the various sections are for. Most people can gather what is the meaning behind the sections. What we would like to get is some introductory statement giving reasons for the legislation. I do not know that I have heard, in the last five years, anything like a lucid explanation as to why a particular measure was brought in. With regard to Section 2, there have been up to this certain rights on the part of certain people who applied for licences. Some people have had them over a period of seven years, certainly for five years. Now, at a moment's notice, this right is to be determined by a clause in an amending Bill, and the only explanation is that it is not going to increase the price of pigs anywhere. I may say that between the Minister and the Pigs Marketing Board they have settled the price of pigs and the production of pigs in this country. This year we exported live pigs to the value of £430,000. When the Minister was over here telling us how agriculture should be managed and what a deplorable position the farmers were in, the value of the pigs exported—I am talking of the year 1931—was £2,158,000.

We have had all these Bills since the advent of Fianna Fáil, and what have they done towards the improvement of our pig production? I daresay the Minister would be quite entitled to draw the attention of the Chair to the fact that I am irrelevant and that I should more correctly deal with what is in this Bill. I know that quite well. More power is to be given to the Minister—that is one of the things that is indicated in this measure. He can exercise absolute discretion with regard to granting or refusing a licence. He ought to be aware that, as a result of the Government's interference, with all their officials and with the multiplication of inspectors and so on, the articles that the people have to buy have increased considerably in price and yet there has not been a single farthing added to what the farmer is able to get—the man who, possibly, is responsible for the Minister being there and for the position of others who are in the enjoyment of Ministerial office. I do not know what case can be made for Section 2. What the Minister seeks to persuade the House to agree to is that registered slaughterhouses, once they have been granted licences, should retain those rights and no other person will be entitled to get them except in the Minister's absolute discretion.

As regards Section 4, I would like a better explanation than the one the Minister gives. There again we have an official of the State getting plenary powers to assemble all the diseased portions of whatever meat is in the factory into one spot. Personally I would prefer that there would be a certificate in each case and that he should see the condemned meat destroyed, if possible. If all the diseased meat is going to be piled in the one place and no steps taken to have it destroyed, there is a very grave danger of some part or parts of the meat being taken out and again put in with the fresh meat. I think the Minister ought not to agree to this thing of giving what I might call an omnibus certificate. It is much more likely that greater care will be exercised if there is a certificate issued in regard to each carcase or part of a carcase and have it immediately destroyed.

If what the Minister says in regard to Section 5 is true—if a man pays in respect of one item and it practically covers other items—I think there is an advantage; at least the costs are not going to be increased. Will the Minister tell the House what an unfortunate pig is assessed at from the time it leaves the producer, the damage it has incurred to the State, the Bacon Board or any other institution of that sort, so that we will get some idea of the charges it has to bear on its back, apart from the fat and the lean?

I would just like to make some reference to the restrictions that have been placed already on this business. I happen to be connected with the Cork Farmers' Union abattoir, which was set up and financed by farmers. Owing to the control and the discipline that have been instituted, the trade of that particular concern is now very considerably curtailed. If there is further curtailment, as appears likely, the position will be that the farmers will suffer. I am afraid I do not welcome the various points made with regard to this Bill.

When I entered the House the Minister was speaking and I thought I had probably missed some explanation as to the purpose behind the Bill. What I would like to know from the Minister is what does he hope to achieve by this measure; in other words, was there any necessity for it, or what is the necessity for it? I do not know that we exported very much fresh meat except pork. Is there some abuse which the Minister seeks to check? What is the purpose of all this legislation? Is the Minister trying to check an abuse, or is it an endeavour to develop something which we have not yet developed? I am merely looking for information.

An Act was passed in 1930—the Fresh Meat Act—and, invariably, we find in this type of legislation that a number of amendments are necessary. In respect of practically every Bill which has been passed on behalf of the Department of Agriculture during the past ten or 12 years, there is a file in the Department of suggested amendments. When we come to a point at which an amending Bill is necessary on some point, these other proposed amendments are produced. What made this Bill urgent is that double fees are being collected in some cases as a result of the Pigs and Bacon Act. A person who is in the pork business as well as this business is paying on the double. We are also meeting a number of small points. Deputy Cosgrave went into the realm of trade in pigs. I think that it is unfair to quote the number of live pigs exported this year as compared with 1931 without quoting the figures for bacon. If you add these figures, the result is not nearly so bad as the figure quoted by Deputy Cosgrave.

Deputy Cosgrave offered objection to giving the Minister discretion under the Bill. I am sorry he has gone out, because I should like to have reminded him that he thought he was giving the Minister for Agriculture discretion in 1930. As a matter of fact, any layman reading that Act would come to the conclusion that the Minister had been given discretion. Some legal doubt was thrown on that and note was taken of it so that next time a Bill was being brought in it would be made right. The principle of discretion was established by the last Government and followed by this Government in regard to this type of legislation. If anybody reads Section 2 and compares it with the Principal Act, he will see that that is the effect.

If Deputy Cosgrave was aware of what actually takes place in the examination of pork and bacon, he would be quite satisfied because the procedure is exactly that which he advocated. The veterinary surgeon is very busy in these rush days. He examines certain parts of the pig. Nearly every farming Deputy has seen the procedure from time to time and I do not want to go into gruesome details. The veterinary surgeon becomes suspicious that a pig is affected with tuberculosis and he condemns the whole pig or parts of it. These are put aside and there is a heap of them at the end of the day. We are, however, fortunate in this country that we have not a lot of tuberculosis in pigs. All the veterinary surgeon will have to do under this Bill is to serve a notice on the owner to destroy the stuff he has condemned. Under the present Act, he would have to write a certificate for each part of a pig which he condemned. The stuff is all collected and is then destroyed. It will give the veterinary surgeon somewhat less trouble to operate in this way than to follow the provisions of the original Act.

Deputy Cosgrave asked what was the cost of all this legislation. The cost is 6d. per pig. I think that very good value is given. Under the Pigs and Bacon Act, we can definitely say to consumers, whether at home or in places to which we export our bacon, that not an ounce of bacon leaves our factories without veterinary examination, so that people can be absolutely sure that they are getting wholesome bacon. Sixpence is not a big fee to pay for that service. The cost is not increased under this Bill. In fact, it will be cut down because the double fees will go wherever they occur. That is going to cut down the cost of inspection to the trade and we may take it that, where the curer has to pay, it is the producer who suffers in the long run. I do not know whether Deputy Brasier, when he referred to the curtailing of the trade in Cork abattoir, had in mind the restrictions or the quotas allocated by the Board.

The quotas.

If the Deputy looks up that matter he will find that a similar question was raised several times about various factories. When I inquired as to the figures, I always found that the factory concerned was doing as much business in 1937 as, if not more than, they were doing before these restrictions came into operation. It is obvious that they must be doing more business, because more pigs are being killed. Deputy Brennan asked what fresh meat we were dealing with. The Fresh Meat Act dealt with beef, lamb, pork, goat and horse. This Bill does not change that. No person applied for a permit to deal in horse or goat meat. These provisions are, however, in the original Act and I suppose they will hardly be used. The meat with which we do deal is pork and lamb. This Bill may be taken to apply to pork and lamb.

Is the Minister not taking some risk regarding the point raised by Deputy Cosgrave as to the condemnation of the meat? If the veterinary inspector does not mark the condemned portions as he goes along, is he sure that he will have it all assembled when he is finished? The Minister and I are interested in seeing that the steps we take here are effective and that they will enhance the value of the sound product.

The officials of my Department and I, as the Deputy said, are anxious to see that the work is effectively done. Every part condemned is marked. The veterinary surgeon has an assistant who keeps his eye on those things.

Provided they are marked so that there can be no change behind his back, matters will be all right.

There will be no possibility of condemned meat getting back into home consumption.

Are steps taken to see that all this stuff is destroyed?

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed provisionally for Thursday, 16th December.