Sir, nothing transpired during the debates in the Dáil to create any alarm with regard to the provisions of this Bill. Its passage was comparatively smooth, the Press was quiet, and there were rumours of certain conciliatory negotiations with the interests affected, and it is understood that they passed off satisfactorily. I, therefore, was very much astonished on reading this Bill, only last week I am ashamed to say, to discover the absolute and far-reaching powers which it gives to the Government. I should like to make to the House a general survey of those powers, before I draw certain conclusions from them. Under the heading "Conditions of cleanliness and order," this Bill enpowers the Minister for Agriculture, without, as far as I can understand, any previous prescription or regulation as to conditions, to order structural alterations in any premises where butter is manufactured for sale. I read that to mean that, in the smallest farm in the country where butter is made, structural alterations can be ordered by the Minister. And for failure to carry out those structural alterations there is a maximum penalty of £20, and a penalty of £5 per day so long as the order is not carried out. He has power to order the provision of an adequate supply of "good and wholesome water." It is not quite clear what that means. But if it does give the Minister power to order every farmer in the smallest circumstances who makes butter in his home for sale—I take it that the sale is not to take place on the premises, the sale can take place at any market, and of course the bulk of the butter manufactured by small farmers is for sale—if the Minister has power to order him to put in a pipe supply of water into his farm, those powers would be too far-reaching and should be curtailed.
The Minister also has the power to order the provision of any plant, alterations or additions to any plant anywhere except on a farm. It is not only in the creamery, making butter perhaps under the national brand, but also in the butter factory where butter is bought from individuals and merely blended and re-worked. An appeal from these orders lies to an arbitrator appointed by the Government whose powers under the Bill appear to be very indefinite. It is not quite clear whether he has power to interpret points of law or not. That matter should be cleared up in the Bill.
Further, the Bill takes power to register in registers to be kept by the Minister of Agriculture virtually all premises, other than farms, where butter is manufactured or re-worked, that is, butter factories. The regulations with regard to these premises lie, if you read the Bill carefully, almost entirely in the hands of the Minister who can practically propose any conditions he likes. The premises are divided into groups which I do not think I need trouble the House with now. There are five groups, and between these groups the conditions vary somewhat. There are further regulated powers and very wide regulated powers over all registered premises which include the complete control of equipment. I submit that there is some contradiction between two sections of the Bill in respect of this matter.
Section 15 (2) (a) provides that before registering any premises the Minister shall be satisfied "that such premises are equipped with efficient plant and machinery of the description specified in the First Schedule to this Act, with such additions and variations (if any) as may be prescribed or as may in any particular case be required or approved of by the Minister." And further on in Section 31 the Bill gives the Minister certain general powers of regulation, but only powers to make regulations prescribing "the nature and general character of the plant and machinery." A close examination of this Bill reveals more than one apparent inconsistency of that kind.
In the case of every manager of a creamery, or, I think, of every cream-separating station, the manager, the butter-maker, and the milk-tester—whoever that person may be; presumably a specialist—all these situations must be filled by qualified persons, qualified under conditions to be imposed by the Ministry, and the names registered or placed on a list to be filed in the Ministry. And under the strict interpretation of that section it would appear that if the milk tester was not to be available, through illness, for instance, and if no other duly qualified person was there, the test by any other party would be illegal. It seems to be a matter for consideration whether that is not too drastic.
The control of the marking and packing of all butter is absolute as far as I can understand. This Bill goes so far as to say that no other marks shall be put on butter from creameries and from butter factories except those prescribed. I would ask the House to regard that as an unwarrantable restriction upon the freedom of trade. If any business likes to display its proclivities, perhaps for Republican agencies, by placing some prominent member of that Party on its packages, or if it wishes by the colour of its wrapper to display its patriotism, surely it is only right and fair that it should be allowed to do so, and not be proscribed by a regulation from indulging its proclivities, however peculiar they may be. You never know what trade developments of that kind may attract. Trade is a very fickle and curious factor, attracted in all kinds of ways and by all kinds of curious advertisements. The cancellation of registration appears also to rest almost entirely in the hands of the Minister. Any contravention of these very, very wide rules may lead to the cancellation of registration. And the cancellation of registration involves the complete stoppage of business, because the bulk of the trade of all these registered premises is export, and no export is allowed from any premises which are not registered. And, in fact, the penalty in this connection is far more serious than any court has power to enforce for breaches of the Act. And there is the further extraordinary provision under which registration may be cancelled for failure without reasonable cause—I think those are the exact words—for failure without reasonable cause to carry out a contract. A creamery or a butter factory over here makes a contract with some purchaser on the other side, and for some reason or other he fails to carry it out. Without any legal proceedings apparently the Minister can himself, presumably after inquiry, cancel that registration, and close the premises. I would ask the House seriously to consider whether those are powers that the Legislature should give to any Government. There is no appeal from the cancellation of registration, nothing but an inquiry to be held under the orders of the Minister, apparently only if he thinks fit.
The powers to inspect and enter all premises are practically unlimited. It is not those that I would warn the House against, it is the powers that follow from inspection. Undoubtedly inspection will be necessary to carry out certain powers which are necessary. The power to make regulations with regard to packing and marking of all butter practically leaving registered premises is absolute, and also the power to impose alterations and additions to plant. The control of the export of butter is almost entirely vested in the Minister. He, in fact, controls the registration and the cancellation, under very wide powers, of all registered premises, and no premises can export unless they are registered except in a certain number of cases—I should imagine very small—in which the Minister has power to licence for export. Furthermore, in all these registered premises, whether they are making high-class butter or inferior butter—and it has been admitted that inferior butter will be continued for many years, and there is a market for inferior butter which will have to be met by somebody—documentary evidence has to be kept of all consignments in a form prescribed and invoices and necessary vouchers are liable to be called upon for production.
Having defined—I hope, fairly—only in general terms, the powers taken by this Bill, I should like to pass some general criticism. The first criticism is a broad one: that the powers are far too large and far-reaching to entrust to any Government. They show a belief in the omnipotence of regulation which is out of accord with the common experience of life. The power of government regulation is exceedingly limited, as anybody of experience must know, and if over exercised it is exceedingly dangerous. It is devised, I would suggest, by people technically qualified but ignorant of the true functions of government. I would even go so far as to suggest that the smooth passage through the Dáil of such a measure is only possible by the upheaval of the times and the breaking down of those big lines of policy which normally would guide and separate political parties. What are these principles, held, I firmly believe, by the majority of this House who hold to orderly and prudent and not revolutionary progress? They are these: that in the matter of trade and commerce government interference is unwise, irritating in its effect, does more harm than good, hampers trade, destroys initiative, and strikes at the root of those qualities which make for production and for national wealth. Government control is a deadening fetter and a fatal handicap in world competition upon those people on whom it is imposed. In that connection I cannot do better than look for a moment at the words of a very wise, perhaps the wisest political philosopher in modern times—comparatively modern times— Edmund Burke. He says:—
"Of all things an indiscreet tampering with the trade of provisions is the most dangerous, and it is always the worst in the time when men are most disposed to it, that is, in time of scarcity. Because there is nothing upon which the passions of men are so violent and their judgment so weak, and on which there exists such a multitude of ill-founded popular prejudices."
And further on he says:—
"To provide for us in our necessities is not in the power of government. It is a vain presumption in statesmen to think that they can do so. The people maintain them and not they the people."
Of course, no doctrine of that kind is true in its absolute purity, and legislation has created exceptions. There is the obvious exception to the doctrine of the unadulteratedlaissez faire school in the regulations providing for the welfare of the workers. That does not arise in this Bill. The control of the welfare of the workers is not affected by the Bill. There is another doctrine on which the Government might rely—the doctrine of protecting a third party from damage, as in a case like the Noxious Weeds Act. It is not so much the damage that the weeds do to the farmer's own land; it is the damage that they do in the neighbouring lands when they are disseminated by powers over which the neighbour, the third party, has no control. And I suppose it is on an extension, and a very wide extension, of that doctrine that the Government in this case take their stand. They argue undoubtedly that this unfettered or comparatively unfettered control in respect of butter production and dairy produce is damaging to the good name of the country, and in consequence damaging to its trade, and damaging to the individuals who create that trade. So far as that goes, I am in absolute agreement with that proposition. The quality of our butter is exaggerated no doubt. But there is a substantial proportion of our butter of bad quality, and it has a bad name in the markets of the world, and it does react upon the good butter. My only difference with the Government is as to the remedy. I need hardly say that we all firmly believe that the Minister whole-heartedly hopes and expects that these measures are going to produce an amelioration in the quality of our produce and do no indirect harm as regards the mentality and enterprise of the people. I give him full credit for that. But that is where we join issue. I would ask the House to hold that education is the right course and not excessive regulation. Undoubtedly education is slow. We all know that. Those who tried any education among the farmers know how painful and disheartening and slow it is, but it is the only sure way in which you will get permanent results.
Hard and bitter things have been said about the futility of coercion in the past, and I think that by applying coercion in the present it will not get you any distance. And this Bill is coercion to a great extent. And, moreover, it is the accepted duty of the State to educate. And I would suggest that the money spent in this Bill, or the part of it that is to be spent on inspection and control, would be far better spent on education. Regulation is irritating and ineffective. It deadens the sense of personal responsibility and it antagonises the citizens or turns the citizens against the State and against the rulers. If you come to look briefly at the development of political events, regulation is essentially a feature of the old phase of Toryism. Liberalism was always against regulation and in favour of getting free from control. These things are altered. Regulation was always essentially a feature of Toryism, and a bad feature of Toryism. And whether it is done under the guise of Toryism or democracy I suggest that it is equally bad. I have no doubt that you may impinge one on the horns of a dilemma by saying that if you are a Tory, as some of you may claim to be, why should you object to this regulation. I do not object to it if it is consistent. Take Toryism as it was without democracy, and then it is absolute. With adult franchise the circumstances are completely different. Here you have regulation on the one hand set against adult franchise on the other —a totally different proposition. There are generally accepted—and I would ask the House to adopt them — wise limits in the powers as devised in the American Constitution. Congress reserves certain powers, and any powers not reserved are left to the constituent States. And so in the regulation of business the Government are fairly satisfied with what powers they reserve and leave any powers not reserved to the free play of individuals. That is exactly what is not done in this Bill. Practically absolute powers are taken, and, presumably, if they are not exercised, it is at the discretion of the Minister, and it is always subject to their being brought into being.
The safeguards are two. One is the tabling of papers which we have heard a great deal about, and we can all draw our own conclusions as to what the value of this safeguard is. You can take these regulations and get them annulled, not amended. They have to be rejectedin toto or passed. May I point to the rules of Court? After long debate it was conceded that the regulations should be specifically passed and not allowed to go by default.
Then there is the consultative council which is composed of the leaders of the trade—managers and committee men, whoever they may be, representing the trade, and of whom the Minister has the sole selection. I do not for a moment suggest that the Minister will not try to select the wisest people. But we have got to look at these things from an abstract point of view. In the Minister is the sole power of selection and he can call a meeting of the council when he likes, and there is no machinery by which the council can call itself together if it wishes to do so. I wonder if the House thinks of the present powers because there are very considerable powers of control that rest behind the Dairies and Cowsheds Order. Those powers are taken from the Act of '48, and they give the local authority powers to make rules; and I need hardly say that that regulation is far more honoured in the breach than in the observance. No new dairy or cowshed can be put up without the leave of the local authority. I wonder how many people who have put up new cowsheds for the last twenty years have done it under the authority of the local authority. It suggests itself to me that the wisest thing to do to make a start was to exercise these powers. They are vested in the district councils and if the district councils are going to be extinguished, then the Government should take the matter into their own hands. There are considerable powers which might continue to be exercised. There is no repeal of this Act under the Bill, and I should like the Minister to tell us how we stand. Are the local authorities going to function simultaneously with himself in the matter of regulating all these cowsheds and dairies?
We have been told that the Agricultural Commission has recommended all these matters. I was a member of the Agricultural Commission, and most emphatically they had not recommended one-half of the extreme powers that are taken by this Bill. They recommend extreme powers with regard to the national brand, which I heartily endorse. As regards our national brand, make your conditions as strict as you like, but let other matters remain under comparatively unfettered conditions. The commission recommends certain powers with regard to all dairies and cowsheds and premises where butter is manufactured—power to enter and inspect, power to sample in the premises, power to sample in transit, power to prohibit margarine on the premises, power to prohibit the word "creamery" being used as a brand for factory butter, power to make definitions and regulations, power to require creameries to pasteurise — I do not object to that—power to prosecute cow-keepers for dirty milk and utensils, power to prosecute owners for dirty utensils. There are far wider powers given in this Bill of imposing plant and prohibiting export from any but registered creameries, and there is this extraordinary power of cancellation, practically closing down for a breach of the Act of which the Minister shall be the judge.
I have been to some trouble to find out whether there is any precedent for this in any country which has made a success of the dairy business. With regard to Denmark, I can speak with absolute certainty, because I have got the regulations under which export is controlled. They have got so far in Denmark in improving their produce that they can make a regulation that nothing but the Lur Brand can be exported. It will be many years before we can prohibit all other exports in Ireland except those bearing our brand. In Denmark they allow nothing out except with the Lur Brand. And they protect it in a simple way, by means of controlling the packing material, and the Government only release the packing material to creameries entitled to use the brand, and then for any offence against the rules the packing material is stopped. And incidentally they can trace where the butter comes from by the marking on the packing material. New Zealand has done a great deal, if not as much as Denmark. I have not got the New Zealand Orders, only the Statute. And there is nothing in the Statute giving anything like as far-reaching powers as the powers given by this Bill. And you know that those two countries have got a great place in the butter market of the world.
We know nothing about the cost of this measure, and I should like enlightenment on that point. If it is going to be enforced in the drastic manner I am suggesting it must be necessarily very costly, and when the Bill is going through I would suggest to the Minister that these inspectors should be also made technical instructors and that there should not be one lot of men inspecting and closing up and another lot of men giving technical instruction; and I would put in possibly an amendment which would ensure that these inspectors shall be also qualified as technical advisers and do the two jobs in one period. It would certainly save a great deal of money.
With regard to the drafting of the Bill, many points will arise during Committee, and I would suggest that it might be reduced a good deal without in any way impairing the powers and substance of the enactment. There must be to a person accustomed to reading enactments a tremendous lot of overlapping, and in some cases contradiction in the composition of this measure. I am reluctant to ask the House to reject this measure. Personally I cannot vote for it. It is an unwise extension of the powers of the Oireachtas. It is an undue interference with the butter trade. It will most certainly either interfere with the trade or, as is quite possible, become largely a dead letter. I am afraid it must become a dead letter. You can only enforce it to a very limited extent, and it will drag the law into disrepute. I would ask the House to say that something far simpler and more on the lines of the recommendations of the Agricultural Commission, is all that is necessary for the country at the present time. Later on, when more limited powers have been in force and the quality has been improved, further powers may be wisely taken.