In the debate yesterday certain criticisms were made in regard to my action in respect of this Bill. It was suggested quite nicely —at all events that was what I read into the suggestions that came from certain quarters—that I was perhaps willing to wound but afraid to strike. It was asked why I had not criticised this measure when the original contract was entered into. I think the answer to that is this: there was no formal occasion ever afforded to this House—I admit of course that I could have raised the question perhaps on the Appropriation Bill or on the Central Fund Bill, or that I might have raised it by way of putting down a motion for a discussion on it. I am simply relying on my memory when I say that I think this is the first legislative Act brought before the Oireachtas in relation to this transaction. As the matter had not been brought definitely before us, I did not feel that it was one of my duties to raise the question as it might have appeared somewhat aggressive to do so. The Minister rather suggested that one has no alternative to his policy. Up to a certain point I agree with him, because I agree a great deal with his policy. All these questions are a matter of degree. I should like for a moment to draw attention to certain definite constructive features in his policy of which I am apprehensive. His policy undoubtedly, so far as milk is concerned, would naturally form a precedent for other forms of farm produce and would establish a co-operative monopoly and would entrench that monopoly by law. Well, I am all in favour of the co-operative movement, but not of a co-operative monopoly entrenched by law. A co-operative monopoly could be made perfectly effective if the farmers of the country themselves were all loyal cooperators, because they control the raw material of the business. If they could be got to be loyal to their societies there would be no necessity for any sort of penal legislation to support them. That is why I view somewhat with alarm the introduction of this provision, what I might call an economic boycott—that is to say, that if the farmer does not do certain things in relation to the society his milk is to be refused by the creameries, and to a large extent he will be ostracised so far as his business is concerned. I think that is a dangerous provision, and I hope it will not form part of our final co-operative code. In the same way I view with alarm the power which is now taken, and which of course will be capable of extension, of definitely preventing any form of competition, joint stock or individual co-operation, with the farmers in their business.
I have always been an active cooperator and thoroughly in favour of farmers doing their own business, but I always went into the movement on the understanding and belief that the co-operative organisation was a voluntary organisation and that it should rely as I believe it does in Denmark—I am open to correction on this—on the good-will, understanding and loyal co-operation on the part of the farmers themselves, and that no advanced form of coercion—this again is a matter of degree—such as is implicit in this Act would be necessary to secure the utmost benefit from co-operation. These are my opinions, and they do seem to be fundamentally at variance with a certain policy in this Bill which may or may not be extended. I am very glad to hear that the Minister intends, when this Co-operative Act is through, to make as clear a cut as he can between the Department and the co-operative societies and to place the organised farmers on their own, devolving on them very considerable powers. Without having examined the matter very closely, I should like to see them formulating measures which would come in a very developed form before Parliament for sanction to give them—perhaps this has not been very fully considered—enabling measures to put up almost legislation themselves for their own business, which would, of course, be subject to ratification by the Oireachtas. I think it is very necessary if this co-operative movement in the future is to be divorced from and independent of State control, that the I.A.O.S. should be independent of State pressure. That rests with the farmers themselves, but the unfortunate thing is that this Organisation Society is, owing to lack of support from the farmers' dependent on Government grants. I should prefer to see the I.A.O.S. independent, so as not to be amenable to any form of Government pressure, and that it could speak unfettered by any obligations to the Government on the part of organised farmers.