The purpose of this Bill is to implement the arrangements in relation to surplus wheat which were announced in January last and subsequently discussed in this House. The proposal is to spread fairly over all wheat growers the cost of disposing of such quantity of millable wheat as may be produced in excess of requirements. For this purpose 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. In respect of the 1958 crop the surplus will be that quantity of wheat marketed for milling in excess of 300,000 tons dried.
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. I may say here that before making appointments to the board, I propose to have consultations with the interests concerned. These interests include not only the growers of the wheat but the pig feeders and the manufacturers of animal feeding stuffs who will be concerned in the disposal of the surplus wheat for feed.
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 (Eire) 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 and 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 say that the arrangements now proposed for the marketing of surplus millable wheat are experimental; they have been accepted by the Government following consideration of the various proposals put forward by interested parties and if they do not operate satisfactorily some other arrangement will have to be devised.