Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 16 Nov 1961

Vol. 192 No. 3

Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Bill, 1961—Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The purpose of this Bill is to repeal Section 8 of the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) (Amendment) Act of 1956, so as to abolish a statutory concession which has been much abused in recent years, under which quantities of flour or wheatenmeal up to 300 lbs. in weight could in certain circumstances be imported without a licence.

The Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Act of 1933 as amended and extended by subsequent Acts was intended to ensure as far as possible that flour consumed in this country should be milled at Irish mills from wheat grown by Irish farmers. Provision was accordingly made in these Acts to prohibit the importation of flour from abroad, except under authority of a licence granted by the Minister for Industry and Commerce.

In 1947, when flour was scarce, it became a common practice for people in the United States of America to send or bring gifts of flour to their friends in this country. To facilitate the entry of such gifts, an Emergency Powers Order was made permitting the importation of flour in quantities of up to 300 lbs. provided it was (a) carried as private effects in passengers' baggage or (b) shown to the satisfaction of the Revenue Commissioners to have been sent by a person who was not a trader dealing in flour or wheatenmeal as a gift to a person in the State. This import concession was continued in permanent legislation in Section 8 of the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) (Amendment) Act, 1956. Representations have been made to the effect that the concession has been abused and should be withdrawn, as it is causing serious loss of trade to flour millers and retailers in this country, particularly in the County Donegal area.

To determine the justification for these complaints special surveys were carried out by the Revenue Commissioners. These indicate that unlicensed imports of flour from the Six County area increased from 1¾ tons per month in September, 1958 to 6 tons per month in March, 1959; 17 tons per month in March, 1960, and 27 per month in March, 1961.

An important aspect of these imports is that the imported flour is flour which has been milled from cheap foreign wheat and that the Irish millers who are obliged to include a proportion of native wheat in their grists could not hope to compete in price with such imported flour.

In view of the increasing extent to which this concession is being used for importation of cheap flour from the Six Counties and the adverse effects which such imports will have on the flour milling industry in the State and especially in Co. Donegal, the Government considers that this concession should be withdrawn, by the repeal of Section 8 of the Act of 1956.

Two questions fall to be answered in regard to this proposal. One is, can the Minister give us approximately the price at which the flour has been brought in from Northern Ireland?

I have no knowledge of that.

The Minister must have.

The Minister says in the course of his statement: "... the imported flour is flour which has been milled from cheap foreign wheat and that the Irish millers who are obliged to include a proportion of native wheat in their grists could not hope to compete in price with such imported flour". How can he say that, if he does not know what the price is?

We have received complaints and it is not unreasonable to assume that, when people go to the trouble of lugging 300 Ibs. of flour on their backs, they can get it more cheaply.

And the Minister does not take the trouble to investigate.

I cannot believe the Minister would stand up to tell the Dáil millers cannot compete with the price when he does not inquire what that price is. The Minister ought to tell us and I urge that view very strongly because it would tend to make our proceedings farcical if the Minister can come in and tell us he is satisfied that the price of flour coming in was one which made it impossible for mills in Ireland to compete, and then say: "I do not know what the price is."

It is about one-third per sack cheaper. I am not familiar with the exact prices.

I notice the Minister has a heavy cold and I am assuming that perhaps his reluctance to extend his customary courtesy to the House may be in some measure due to that distressing circumstance.

It is entirely unrelated, I am afraid.

The second point which falls to be considered is what will happen when we go into the Common Market. I am listening every day of my life, with approbation and understanding, to the exhortations which are continually coming from the Minister, nis colleagues and the Taoiseach that everybody is to brace himself for circumstances with which we will be confronted when we enter the Common Market. Yet we continually have pieces of legislation presented to this House designed to impose import prohibitions, restrictions or further tariff protection. It seems to me to reveal an odd dichotomy of mind in our approach to these matters. I would be interested to hear what the Minister's reaction to that problem is.

This special proviso was implemented by us during our last Government, I think, to meet a very special situation. At that time there were gifts coming in considerable volume from abroad and there were endless complications and difficulties. This proviso was put in in order to meet that situation. The situation that it was designed to meet no longer exists and if the Minister were in a position to make any kind of reasonable case, which I do not think he has so far succeeded in doing, we would not be concerned to oppose this proposal.

I am thinking as I am speaking of the relationship of this proposal, admittedly a minor proposal, to the general question of the wheat situation. However, as it is my intention on behalf of this Party to set down a motion to deal with the broader issues arising in connection with the wheat situation I propose to reserve my observations in regard to the wider question for the occasion on which that will be discussed which I hope will be at a very early date. In the meantime, I think the Minister ought (1) to tell us more precisely what the price differential is to which he refers in the course of his introductory statement; and (2) whether he has any thoughts to offer us as to restrictive proposals of this character in the context of the Common Market future that lies before us.

So far as we are concerned, we do not oppose what seems to be a minor piece of legislation. Some time in May of this year complaints were received by the Labour Party through the trade unions to the effect that there was this big increase in the importation of flour from the Six County area to the southern part of the country, particularly to Co. Donegal, and it was having an effect on employment in the shops and in the mills.

I drew the attention of the Minister to the situation that existed in Donegal on that occasion and urged him to introduce a measure such as he is introducing here this morning. For that reason we welcome it. The figure given by the Minister here, while it does not indicate the price, does show that there has been an abnormal increase in the importation of gift packages of flour from September, 1958, when imports amounted to 1¾ tons per month up to March of this year, when imports reached 27 tons per month.

The only reservation I have about this is one which Deputy Dillon mentioned. I suppose we should not attempt to cross our bridges until we come to them but practically every discussion on industrial matters in this House will be tempered by the knowledge that in the near future, in a year or two years, we may become members of the Common Market. If our Ministers were to legislate in anticipation of our becoming members of the Common Market in a year's time I wonder what type of legislation we would have? I suppose we could work on the basis of our continuing as we have been, that is, as a more or less independent trading country, apart from our relationship with Britain, and legislate accordingly. I am sure that the Minister has in mind the situation that will arise, if and when we become members of the Common Market. I should like to thank the Minister and say that we approve of his action in this Bill.

This is a minor Bill to remove a minor irritation to millers. At the same time, we have the complete dereliction of wheat farmers by the Government. It really is a sign of the times and an indication of the thought behind the Cabinet at the present moment in relation to the production of flour and the growing of Irish wheat. I do not agree with the Leader of the Labour Party that this has any effect on employment in the mills. I would merely give one pair of figures to prove that.

The figure given for increased importation of gift flour into this country is 20 odd tons. There is one mill in this country which produces six tons of flour per hour. In fact, we are talking about the production in one mill in this country for three hours. Anybody who knows anything about the production of flour in mills knows also that there is a five-day week in a three-shift cycle. Three hours in one year does not bear any relation to the employment of labour in the industry. In fact, any suggestion that it does is merely a dangled carrot to induce the Labour Party to believe that their proper duty is to go with this legislation. It is entirely a minor irritation. Anything I have said about the labour aspect of it should be regarded by my good friend, Deputy Corish, as merely recording the figures and not a criticism of the Labour Party.

At the same time, that is the exact position. We are talking of an irritation so small that it affects the production of one mill in this country for three hours in a year. We are looking after this absolutely minor irritation, which is of no consequence, while ignoring the unfortunate situation of those who produce the real raw material, namely, the wheat farmers.

Deputy Dillon seemed to take all the credit or the blame for the introduction of this provision in so far as it appears in Section 8 of the 1956 Act. Section 8 merely enacted for the first time what was already contained in an Emergency Powers Order of 1947 and whether there is blame or credit, I am afraid his Government and predecessors will have to share it. It is obvious that the provision was designed to facilitate something that was happening and something that was then desirable, although I still wonder at the people who carried 300 lbs. weight of flour on their backs across the Border. The differential in price is, I understand, about 135/-, Twenty-Six County price, as against 100/- outside price for a 280-lb. sack. That itself is, I think, an inducement.

That is the source of the 300-lb.

Yes, that is right. With regard to the flourmilling industry generally, it is not fair to allege that there is that differential in the efficiency of our flour mills as against those outside the State. As I mentioned in my opening statement, the object of the original legislation was to ensure that the wheat grown in this country would be used to the maximum possible extent. It is reasonable to assume that millers outside the State get their raw material at a cheaper price than it is possible for our own millers to do so. The difference between the price of the sack is not a measure of the difference in efficiency of our millers as against the others.

Nevertheless, that is not to say that one cannot but have some concern about the future of our flourmilling industry in Common Market conditions. That is one of the objects which is engaging my attention and the attention of my Department. It is obvious that, in common with other interests, reorganisation from within, if possible, will have to take place in the milling industry. If it is not possible from within and if such reorganisation proves to be necessary, other action will have to be considered in relation to our flourmilling industry.

Question put and agreed to.

Next week. We will then get the exact prices from the Minister.

The Minister has given us the exact prices. Does the Minister want the remaining Stages?

We are agreeable.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.

Bill considered in Committee.

Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.