Agricultural Produce (Eggs) Bill, 1961 —Committee and Final Stages.

Wednesday, 14 June 1961

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 54 No. 8

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Section 1 agreed to.

Question proposed: “That Section 2 stand part of the Bill.”

Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: Information on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  Zoom on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  This is the section that particularly concerned me in asking the House and the Minister to delay the Committee Stage until to-day. It is the section I wanted to think over in relation to the possibility of proposing amendments. I am grateful to the House for the delay and to the [798] Minister for taking it in good part and being prepared to come along, particularly at this late hour, to consider the Committee Stage. I hope we are agreed that the general principle of such delay is a good one because it enables us to reconsider the questions raised on the Second Stage and also gives time for possible reactions to them to make themselves manifest, if there are such reactions. I considered putting down an amendment to delete this section but I thought, in the light of what the Minister said, and in view of the fact that there did not seem to be any manifest public reaction against this change, and also in view of the fact that it was apparently unlikely that the section could be deleted since the Minister considers it to be one of the most important parts of the Bill, that instead I would content myself with making a final comment.

The comment I want to make is to stress the fact that I still cannot help feeling that to remove the necessity for code marked eggs—the code mark being a guarantee of relative freshness—is a retrograde step. When we buy a film which is marked “To be developed before 1962,” or whatever it may be, we take that as an indication of the film's freshness. We also like to see on the milk bottle cap the day on which the milk was bottled. On the last occasion, I feel the Minister exaggerated, shall we say, a prejudice which may exist but which I think does not exist to the extent he suggests, against code marked eggs. If such exists, I should like to ask is the best way of removing the prejudice to remove the code mark? I do not think so. We should rather ask why is it that the public have this prejudice against these eggs?

We have had another Minister saying how valuable it is to know that a commodity is marked with a standard specification mark and measures up to certain specifications which are guaranteed by the mark. I fail to see why that should not apply equally to marking our eggs. Perhaps the Department itself has not done all it might. I feel that the public should [799] recognise that a code marked egg is guaranteed to come within a certain standard of freshness. I notice that is done in Britain and I notice also in Britain that they still find it useful to have the Lion brand on the eggs which is widely recognised as a useful code mark.

I do not want to delay the House but I want again to appeal to the Minister to recognise that in this matter he is moving backwards.

Mr. Donegan: Information on Patrick S. Donegan  Zoom on Patrick S. Donegan  I think Senator Sheehy Skeffington finds himself alone in his view on eggs. In Ireland, we are better judges of fresh eggs than the 49,000,000 who have to live in highly-industrialised England. We enjoy a fresh egg and due to the multitudinous processes through which an egg has to go to be stamped before it reaches the consumers in England, it is no longer a fresh egg. The stamp guarantees that it is not a rotten egg. We have the opportunity of getting a fresh egg. Because it does not have to go through all these processes and into the big wholesalers and out again, we feel it is a fresher egg. I do not think the comparison with the film or even with the milk bottle holds water——

Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: Information on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  Zoom on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  It sometimes does.

Mr. Donegan: Information on Patrick S. Donegan  Zoom on Patrick S. Donegan  Perhaps it sometimes does. The position in regard to a film is that it is manufactured, and the position in regard to milk in the bottle is that it is processed and, as such, is expected to be of standard quality and of a standard age and everything else. I believe there is nothing like a fresh egg. The fresh egg I refer to has not got a code mark on it, because it is so fresh that there would not have been time to take it into a store, mark it and take it out again. Whether we live in O'Connell Street or anywhere else, there are ways and means of getting fresh eggs. Before creamery butter came on the market, there were ways and means of getting fresh butter. We are comparing [800] industrial England with agricultural Ireland and I think that is the answer.

When I make my next comment with regard to a subsidy, the Minister will know that it is not meant in any political way because if he refers to my contribution on Second Stage, he will find that I said there was not an opportunity here for a subsidy. I wanted to raise this point in relation to Section 42 of the principal Act dealing with fresh eggs and second quality eggs. The general view of the Advisory Committee was that there should be a minimum guaranteed price for eggs. I said on Second Stage that I held the view, and still hold it, that the subventions would be too great even with the possibility in the future of a cessation of the subsidy. There may be an opportunity in the future if we are doing a thriving trade in the export of eggs, but in present circumstances conditions are not such as to justify a subsidy. I should like to hear from the Minister on that point if he would be good enough to elaborate on it.

Seán Ó Donnabháin: Information on Sean ODonovan  Zoom on Sean ODonovan  Senators who have spoken are forgetting the other sections of the Bill. I predict that inside of two years we will be buying eggs in the packet or in the jar.

Mr. Donegan: Information on Patrick S. Donegan  Zoom on Patrick S. Donegan  God forbid.

Seán Ó Donnabháin: Information on Sean ODonovan  Zoom on Sean ODonovan  We can buy soups in the packet now and people are quite pleased with them. In a subsequent section of the Bill provision is made for the appointment of qualified bacteriological examiners to examine all products. Senators are forgetting about those conditions and dealing only with the fact that it is proposed to dispense with the stamping of eggs. I have considerable experience of the practice of stamping eggs and I think when we find it is not serving the purpose it was intended to serve it is reasonable to dispense with it.

I have no hesitation in predicting that we will in future be buying eggs in the jar, in the tin or in the packet, as we can now buy so many articles of food, including soups. We are undoubtedly making industrial progress and that is the tendency. The transport [801] of eggs on the home market and on the export market would undoubtedly be facilitated, if they could be transported in a concentrated form. They would be much less liable to damage or putrefaction in transit. It is better to dispense with a system which is not achieving the purpose for which it was intended, and I believe it is a good thing that we should dispense with it now.

Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: Information on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  Zoom on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  Senator Donegan referred to the Report on Shell Eggs and Liquid Egg. In paragraph 29 which relates to this section, the Advisory Committee said:

The present regulations in regard to the code marking of eggs for the home market are not being observed and in our opinion they cannot be effectively enforced.

That means that the machinery of the Department has broken down and not that the Irish buyer in some magical way can spot a fresh egg as Senator Donegan suggested. In fact in the same paragraph we read:

One might even say that at present she will still buy unstamped eggs even if the chances are against their being better than stamped eggs. In any event, it is quite certain that at present the quality of stamped eggs is suspect and that such eggs will not be purchased if unstamped eggs are available.

I suggest that is the result not of the system but of the failure on the part of those whose duty it is to enforce it.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  I think the Senator is stretching the meaning of that paragraph. However, it is late at night to discuss it. That is not my interpretation of its meaning.

Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: Information on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  Zoom on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  The regulations “are not being observed”.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  The plain meaning of the paragraph is that they are inoperable.

Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: Information on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  Zoom on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  With respect, if they are inoperable, I fail to see how they are operated in other countries. We all know that poteen is manufactured occasionally but it is [802] not found impossible to enforce the regulations in that regard. We do not simply say: “Let everyone make it”. I feel that the apparatus or the machinery of the Department is breaking down and I regard that as a retrograde step.

Mr. Donegan: Information on Patrick S. Donegan  Zoom on Patrick S. Donegan  I should like to refer Senator Sheehy Skeffington to paragraph 30 of the Report.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  May I interrupt the Senator? It is now 10.10 p.m. and the Senator knows we have been operating with a very limited Reporting Staff to-day. Perhaps the Senator would summarise his remarks.

Mr. Donegan: Information on Patrick S. Donegan  Zoom on Patrick S. Donegan  Certainly. Section 30 of the Report reads:

In our opinion, the code mark on eggs sold on the home market serves little purpose at present and we recommend that it should be abolished. This will eliminate a great deal of the abuses in connection with the sale of unstamped eggs at premium price and we do not consider that it will be to the detriment of consumers.

I did not suggest there was some magical way in which the consumer can spot a fresh egg. There are always ways and means of getting eggs which one knows to be fresh from farmers, and that is really the point. Would the Minister be good enough to give his views on the point I raised about the subsidy?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  I doubt if it is relevant.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  I thought I had dealt with this point on a previous occasion after the debate on Second Reading. If I did not, this is what I would say on the subject. If you fix a price for any product, you fix that price to achieve some purpose. The purpose we would want to achieve by fixing a price for eggs would be, I assume, that the production of eggs would be increased over and above what would be necessary to supply the demand on the home market. In order to do that, the price would have to be sufficiently attractive.

If the price were not sufficiently [803] attractive, you would not get that increased production, and if you did not succeed in getting increased production and attempted to fix the price just as in the case of the stamping of eggs, you would not be able to make the fixation of the price effective. If you did succeed in determining the price that would encourage increased production then we would have to look for markets outside. Even the Advisory Committee in their presentation of the report and in the words they use talked about trying to find markets on the Continent. They were very shaky, indeed, when they came to deal with this whole matter of the prospects of finding these markets and the problems associated with the disposing of any increased production resulting from such an effort.

I did say on the last occasion that this was one business that suited this country. It suits our small farmers; suits the way of life of a great number of our people. It was one business that I was never engaged in other than as a farmer's son. I knew a little bit about it and it is important. It was one of the businesses to which I personally as an individual and surely as Minister for Agriculture would be delighted to lend a hand in promoting and expanding. In the present state of affairs and knowing conditions, I could not see any prospect at all of doing that, nor do I see, to tell the truth, very much sense in the recommendation. I suspect that those who made it were not very enthusiastic about it even if they did commit themselves on paper in that regard. That is all I want to say about that matter now.

Senator Sheehy Skeffington referred to the fact that in 1939 the code marking of eggs was introduced for export and later for home sale. He thinks that, in 1961, we are abandoning the code marking of eggs for home sales and that we are giving power to abandon it in certain cases, should there be any exports to certain countries which do not like code marking. He says that is a retrograde step. I do not know for the life of me how one can regard as a retrograde step something you did 20 [804] years ago in the belief that you were suiting public opinion and public feeling at the time. I remember the people were pleased with and traders welcomed the code marking of eggs in 1939. It was done in response to public demand. It was believed by most people that it was a good thing. It was tried out since. In 1961, we find the body which investigated this whole matter making this recommendation. As I said on the last occasion, we know ourselves from contacts that after this experiment we were prepared to say that we tried this and it did not turn out to be what we thought it would be.

Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: Information on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  Zoom on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  We have not been able to do it.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  It is not that, because on page 8, paragraph 28 of the Advisory Body's report we find these lines:

We understand that in Britain also sales of unstamped eggs are considerable even though no subsidy payment is made on the eggs.

Even in Britain where there is this code marking, where everything is done properly, where the law is observed by everybody and where everything is always perfect—we are not saints in this land of ours, I know; but we are not as bad as we think we are by comparison with some others—they are prepared to pay the higher price and to neglect and ignore the subsidy paid by the taxpayer in order to get eggs that are unstamped.

Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: Information on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  Zoom on Owen Lancelot Sheehy Skeffington  It is very exceptional.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  They know. Evidence was tendered to them but there is no country in the world in which that is not the case. Rather than being a retrograde step, it is indicative of our approach and our understanding of public thought on matters like this and of Parliament falling into line with public thought. If that is a retrograde step, I do not know what the meaning of true democracy is.

Mr. O'Quigley: Information on John Benignus OQuigley  Zoom on John Benignus OQuigley  Despite what the Minister may say about Senator [805] Sheehy Skeffington's approach to the abolition of the code marking of eggs, there is the great argument in favour of Senator Sheehy Skeffington that code marking persisted for a period of 22 years. That is the great argument in favour of its continuance. The reason I believe the code mark did not work is this: If on a Sunday night Radio Éireann announced that the Minister had fixed the code mark 73 for eggs tested next week, on Monday afternoon the housewife would not know whether the mark was 73 or 49. It broke down. In the operation of that system there was the failure to require those selling the eggs to have the particular code mark on display in the shops.

It remains to be seen, when all these restrictions are removed, whether or not the people will get fresh eggs or eggs as fresh as they got up to the present time. I agree with the notion that if you try out one thing and you have a belief it is not correct, Parliament should not hesitate to experiment. The only observation I wish to make to the Minister is that I heard him saying that we were not half as bad as we think. On this side of the House, we are not half as bad as he thinks sometimes.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  I rarely think of you at all; that is the truth of the matter.

Mr. O'Quigley: Information on John Benignus OQuigley  Zoom on John Benignus OQuigley  The Minister becomes quite abusive at times. At any rate, the stout defender of his position was Senator Donegan. Senator Donegan talked about the phrase used in the country that “eggs is eggs.” That is as good as the English used in the Courts of Justice [806] and Court Officers (Superannuation) Bill 1961, which we had before us today. Here in this Bill is another example of the slovenly draftsmanship we are getting in Bills lately. I take a stand against handing to Parliament slovenly Acts and draftsmanship when people can be recruited to do the job in a proper way.

In subsection (3) of Section 2 of the Bill, the following occurs:

In this section “fresh eggs” has the meaning assigned to it by section 42 of the Principal Act.

Here we see that the phrase “fresh eggs,” is followed by the singular form of the verb. If we are going to write English, we might write it correctly. The proper way to do that is to say: “In this section the expression ‘fresh eggs’ has the meaning assigned to it by section 42 of the Principal Act.” We ought to do something of that nature instead of indulging in slovenly expressions. It does no credit to Parliament, the Minister or the Department to pass legislation that way. I have no doubt that that observation will find no favour whatever with the Minister.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 3 to 5, inclusive, agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

Agreed to take remaining Stages to-day.

Bill received for final consideration and passed.

The Seanad adjourned at 10.25 p.m. sine die.


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