I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The Government decided in January last, as the House is aware, that if the estimated quantity of native wheat likely to be delivered to the mills from the 1958 crop exceeded 300,000 tons dried, it would be necessary to introduce a scheme which would spread fairly over all wheat growers the difference between the prices realised for the surplus and the cost of the wheat in the purchasers' stores.
From the information at present available, it appears that there will be a surplus of wheat from the 1958 crop and the purpose of this Bill is to empower the Minister for Agriculture to implement the proposals already announced and discussed in this House. Briefly, these proposals are that a levy will be deducted by the purchasers from the price of all millable wheat marketed; this levy will be paid into a fund to be managed by a board to be set up under this Bill and will be used to meet the cost of the disposal of the surplus wheat.
Before going on to the terms of the Bill, I think I should mention that the requirement of 300,000 tons of dried native wheat was related to a higher rate of consumption of flour than the present rate. The production of flour during the current cereal year is approximately 10 per cent. less than in the same period last year and in the circumstances there is little likelihood that the requirement of 300,000 tons will be increased.
The most important sections of the Bill are Sections 2, 3 and 4.
Section 2 provides for the deduction of the wheat levy from the standard price by the purchasers and for the transmission of the sums involved to the board which is to be set up under the Act. This section also provides for a payment of the levy to the Minister in the event of the board not being in operation before the commencement of the 1958 harvest.
Section 3 provides for the fixing of the rate of wheat levy by the Minister. It is intended that before fixing the levy the Minister should consult with the board to be set up, but provision is also made for consultation with representatives of the growers in the event of the board not being in operation before the levy appropriate to the 1958 crop is determined.
Section 4 provides for the establishment of a board to be known as An Bord Gráin. The primary function of this board will be to collect the wheat levies and to arrange for the disposal of surplus wheat to the best advantage. It is intended that the board shall consist of a chairman and not less than four or more than eight other members to be appointed by the Minister for Agriculture. It is intended that wheat growers and other interests concerned will be represented on the board. I may mention at this stage that I have had consultations with representatives of the flour millers, who have indicated to me that they are not disposed to be represented on the proposed board. They have, however, informed me that they will be prepared to co-operate in the purchase, handling, drying and storage of any surplus wheat on behalf of the board provided moneys are advanced to them to enable such purchases to be made.
It will be noted that in addition to the general powers being given to the board to purchase and sell surplus home-grown millable wheat and to collect the wheat levy it will also be empowered—
(a) to invest moneys under its control; (b) to arrange for the carriage, drying, handling and storage of wheat either by providing itself with the necessary facilities or by arranging with the owners of such facilities to use them on behalf of the board; (c) to provide itself with such offices and premises as it considers necessary and to equip and maintain such offices and premises; (d) to borrow, with the consent of the Minister, from time to time such moneys as it considers necessary; provision is also made for the guaranteeing of a loan to the board by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance up to a maximum of £3,500,000; (e) to appoint such and so many persons to be its officers and servants as it thinks fit (an officer of the board will be authorised to inspect and to make copies of records of all purchases of wheat. This power is necessary in order that the board may ensure that levy is paid on all purchases); (f) to require wheat purchasers by notice in writing to furnish to the board in such form and at such time or times as it may specify returns disclosing the date of purchase of any wheat and the quantity, quality and condition of wheat purchased.
It is provided in Sections 20 and 21 that the board shall submit to the Minister each year a copy of its accounts, including the balance sheet, certified by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, together with an annual report, and that such accounts and report shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.
As I have indicated already, the primary function of the board is to collect the levy and arrange for the disposal to the best advantage of the surplus wheat which may arise. I would like, however, to direct the attention of the House to Section 7 of the Bill, which provides that the Minister for Agriculture may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, from time to time by Order—
(a) assign to the board such additional functions as he thinks fit in relation to cereals (excluding wheat imported for milling), cereal products and animal feeding stuffs; (b) make such provision as he considers desirable or necessary in relation to matters ancillary to, or arising out of, the assignment to or fulfilment by the board of functions assigned to it under this section.
This provision is being included in the Bill in view of the fact that Grain Importers (Éire) Limited will probably be wound up in the near future. As the House is aware, that company has fulfilled a very useful function since 1939 in arranging for imports of wheat and coarse grains and also in operating various schemes introduced for the purchase and disposal of home-grown cereals. When this company was set up in 1939, it was intended that it should operate only for the emergency period. Due to various circumstances, however, it has been continued in operation and its directors, who have given their services without fee, are anxious to be relieved of their responsibilities in this regard.
It is now proposed that the business of importing wheat for milling will revert to the usual trade channels. There is no serious difficulty involved in this proposal as the quantity of wheat to be imported can be estimated with reasonable accuracy and may be restricted by licence issued under the Cereals Act. The position in regard to coarse grains presents a more difficult problem having regard to the difficulty in determining from time to time the quantities to be imported and in regulating the price of imported grain in relation to the price of home-grown cereals. While it may be possible, in consultation with the interests concerned, to arrange for the import through the usual trade channels, of such limited quantities of coarse grain as may be required, it is most desirable that some central organisation should be available to implement such schemes as may be devised for the marketing of home-grown cereals.
Finally, I should like to mention that the board will be concerned only with millable wheat. Wheat which is not up to milling standard by existing regulations will not be purchased by or on behalf of the board.