Tuesday, 28 June 1966
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tea (Purchase and Importation) Act, 1958, provides for the control of tea imports so as to ensure that tea is purchased in and imported direct from the country of origin by either Tea Importers (1958) Ltd. or by a registered tea trader. The Act does not apply to essences and extracts of tea,  including instant tea, but the importation of these products is prohibited by the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876. For some time I have been receiving representations to have the prohibition on the importation of instant tea removed as there is a public demand for it, especially for use in tea dispensing machines. Instant tea is now being manufactured in some of the tea-growing countries and provision can be made for its importation from these countries on the same basis as leaf tea.
Under the Free Trade Area Agreement with Britain, it is necessary to remove restrictions on the importation of instant tea manufactured in Britain as it is regarded as a manufactured product. The purpose of the Bill is to remove the existing prohibition on the importation of instant tea and to make it subject to the same regulation as leaf tea, except in the case of instant tea manufactured in Britain which will be free of restriction in accordance with the Free Trade Area Agreement. The importation of leaf tea from Britain will, of course, continue to be prohibited because leaf tea is not manufactured.
Mr. Ryan: This is clearly a piece of instant legislation. We have put this Bill into the machine of the House and we expect some instant legislative beverage to come out of it. I must say that at the end of the Minister's speech it is as tasteless to me as it was before the Minister began, and I do not mean that offensively. The Minister is dealing with an insipid product when he is dealing with this Bill. I take it that the article known as instant tea was not devised or conceived at the time the 1958 Bill was being considered and certainly not, as Deputy Tully suggests to me, when the 1876 Bill was going through. Perhaps our ancestors were wiser in their generation than we are in ours. Certainly, if we are to judge by the taste of other instant beverages, I doubt if the Irish palate would become as addicted to instant tea as it has become addicted to the more traditional form of tea.
When the 1958 Bill was going  through, concern was expressed that we were imposing a restriction on the importation of tea and that this would lead to one type of insipid tea. Experience has shown otherwise and there is quite a reasonable variety of good-class, middle-class and indifferent-class tea. I suppose that instant tea would be very much the same as tea. We can only hope that those who seek this improvement know what they are talking about. We feel sure they do. These are the tasters, the experts, and we are the consumers and we can only learn by experience. I should like to know how it becomes necessary to amend the 1958 Act if in fact instant tea was not in contemplation in 1958 because it does appear that no prohibition could operate against something which was not then in existence. Could the Minister tell us if instant tea comes from tea, because there are other beverages to which one applies the name of some natural product but which do not justify the title of the product itself? This may be the extraction of the essence and which therefore removes the necessity to make tea in the traditional way, with boiling water and a hot teapot. I should like the Minister to give us some further information on this matter before the conclusion of this Stage.
Mr. James Tully: Some years ago representations were made to a number of local authorities to supply some type of beverage to persons taken into the local clinic for treatment and who had to stay there for quite a long time. It was found that the machines available for dispensing this product did not contain tea and one of the reasons was that we had some type of exclusion order against what has been described as instant tea. If this legislation remedies the situation now, then it is a good idea, because no matter what anybody says, most country people find it very difficult to become accustomed to drinking a beverage which they were not accustomed to drinking. Hot chocolate and coffee might be all right, but in this particular area I found that the type of beverage in the machines did not answer up, whether it was palatable or not, and practically everybody was asking why could there not be tea.  I could not understand it myself until I made an inquiry and found there was a reason. I should like to know if in fact—and it may not be the Minister's function to answer this—this is instant tea or is it some kind of concoction which is likely to leave these unfortunate patients with a far greater disease than they had when they went in.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: This Bill gives us an opportunity of asking the Minister to provide us with some further information. There are various blends of tea but we do hear older people saying that there is no tea now like the tea they used years ago. I am reliably informed that the tea now on the market cannot compare with the tea which was available to consumers many years ago. Is it correct that as older people now maintain, it takes at least four spoonfuls of tea to make a good pot of tea as against only two spoonfuls some years ago to make a first-class pot of tea?
This Bill gives us an opportunity of asking the Minister if there are any set standards. If one goes into a hotel or restaurant and asks for a pot of tea, sometimes one gets a pot of water disguised as tea and sometimes one gets a pot of far. There should be certain set standards for tea. There are set standards for coffee, for cocoa, for drinking chocolate.
The Minister should enlighten the House as to what he means by instant tea. Are there set standards where this tea is concerned? Is it absolutely certain it will be in no way injurious to health? Tea is our national beverage. It is taken at least three times a day in every home in the country, and sometimes six times a day. In the very hospitable county from which the Minister comes, the teapot is available beside the fire the whole day through. There are cases in which people have taken tea every hour of the day. We have had no statement from the Minister for Health as to whether or not certain types of tea are injurious to health. Is there any means of obtaining or finding out the standard of imported teas because  those who know what they are talking about maintain that the tea coming in now is not as good as the tea imported years ago?
I do not know if Deputies remember shell cocoa. It came in an enormous carton, something like the cartons in which cornflakes are packed today. On the carton there was a teapot and then a certificate giving details of the quality of the cocoa. During the war period, there were many substitutes for tea and some of us have not altogether affectionate memories of them. Is this instant tea rally tea? What are the ingredients? What is the nature of it?
This Bill gives us an opportunity of focussing public attention on this matter and bringing the Minister's attention to the fact that the quality of tea seems to have deteriorated. People say the times are not as good as they were; that may be correct. They say the weather is not as good as it used to be. They say tea is not like the tea it was some years ago. Perhaps, as we grow older, our tastes change but I would appeal to the Minister to ensure that there are certain standards which must be adhered to. I make these few observations in the hope that everything will be done to ensure that this instant tea, for example, is really tea.
Dr. Hillery: It is required that, in relation to instant tea, which is imported from countries other than Britain, the exporting country will show specifically the place of origin of the particular tea.
Dr. Hillery: It is an essence of tea so produced as to make it possible for these vending machines to dispense a cup of tea when a coin is inserted. There is a wide variety of tea of different blends and, as I said, a lot depends on how it is brewed. The Deputy appreciates how difficult it is to make a good cup of tea. The water must be boiling——
Dr. Hillery: The reason for the 1958 Act was that during the war we discovered we had no claim on a country producing tea. The way to establish a claim is to buy in bulk direct from the country of origin, and so we are not dependent on any particular person for our supplies of tea. The prohibition did not relate to the 1958 Act but to the 1876 Act, and I have a copy of the relevant part here. It refers to “extracts, essences or other concentrations... coffee, chicory, tea or tobacco.” It was away back in 1876 that this prohibition was established. We have to remove this prohibition because of the Free Trade Area Agreement and in removing it for Britain, I propose to remove it for the countries in which leaf tea is produced. I do not know if tea is injurious to health, as Deputy Flanagan mentioned. I have never heard this suggested but, if it were, I am sure our Minister for Health would be actively pursuing the problem.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: Surely the Minister has heard people saying many times that if they drink tea at night, it keeps them awake the whole night? Does the Minister know if there is anything in that? I do not think there is.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: I do not wish to keep the Minister from his tea, but I have noted that he made no statement as to whether there is any examination of or inquiry into the standard of tea imported here. I have often wondered whether the tea being sent into this country is the best quality. Is there any machinery available in the Minister's Department to ensure that, if the countries producing tea send out rubbish in the guise of tea, that rubbish can be identified? As a drinker of tea, I feel strongly on this subject because of the different qualities available on the public market. Any Deputy who goes to the trouble of consulting housewives at random in regard to tea will find they have various opinions of its quality.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: Does the Chair not agree with me that if there is no machinery at the disposal of the Minister or the Government to ensure that good quality tea is put on the market, it is about time some steps were taken?
Dr. Hillery: The first matter, with which I thought I had dealt, is the health aspect, to which I am sure the Minister for Health would be alert. The other question might come under consumer protection; it would not come under this Bill. There is a wide variety of tea available, and the best protection the public have is not to buy the dust mentioned by the Deputy.
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