Provisions in the Northern Ireland government’s Poultry Improvement Bill came in for strong criticism this week in 1968 when it received its second reading in the Ulster Senate.
Describing the bill as a “consolidating measure”, Mr John Andrews, Leader of the House, said that it brought into one comprehensive enactment all the powers of the Ministry of Agriculture to assist the breeding and rearing of poultry.
“The fundamental aim,” said Mr Andrews, “is to provide conditions in which the commercial poultrykeeper can be assured of a regular and dependable supply of good quality, healthy chicks.
“The proposals incorporated in the bill have been discussed with, and accepted by, the Ulster Farmers’ Union and the Northern Ireland Poultry Breeders’ Association through the medium of the Poultry Advisory Committee.”
Mr Andrews said that at that time control was exercised by the Poultry Hatcheries Act of 1950 with which was linked the Accredited Poultry Farms Scheme under the Agriculture Act of 1949.
“The new bill,” Mr Andrews said, “revokes the Poultry Hatcheries Act and brings control of hatcheries and breeding and rearing establishments within the scope of a single act.
“This reflects the process of integration which has taken place within the industry as a result of which hatcheries, breeders and rearers have become closely linked, within a single organisation.”
Saying that he supported the bill generally, Sir George Clarke described it as a “useful attempt to adapt the industry to the needs of the present day”.
However, he would submit that it indicated acceptance by the government of the fact that the day of the small farmer was over.
“The large industrial hatchery, or the large producer will be the only people able to compete successfully with the legislation which we intend to put through,” he said.
The ministry, he added, would have unlimited powers to do exactly what it liked or, to his mind, to nationalise the whole industry and run it as it chose.
He declared: “As it stands this bill will be no friend of the small farmer. There is going to be an enormous amount of additional bookkeeping not only for the farmer but for the ministry, which will mean a further increase in bureaucracy. Whether this is the intention of the ministry and exactly where the money is going to come from I do not know.”
Dr Patrick McGill said that he doubted very much whether the bill would do anything for the ordinary farmer except add to his worries and “confirm him in his resolve that the sooner he got out of farming the better”.
Dr McGill added: “This bill will be a contribution to the denuding of the agricultural industry throughout Northern Ireland. Its ultimate effect will be to wipe small holdings out completely. After they have gone the medium-sized farms will go; they must because the market, as it is emerging will not give them a fair show.”
Dr Herbert Quinn said that the bill would seem to impose “a good many obligations on people who might not even be farmers, but people who might have a hen run with four or five birds”.
“They have go to decide,” he said, “whether they are going to be allowed to continue or whether they have to be licensed to improve their flock under some scheme not yet defined for the purposes of improving the standard to poultry generally.”
Dr Quinn said that there was too much bureaucracy in the measure.
He said: “Everything is subject to approval of an inspector. When one starts to think of the many people in Northern Ireland who keep a few fowl one wonders how many inspectors are going to be needed.”
In reply to these comments Mr Andrews said: “Some Senators seem to have the idea that if the bill becomes law and these rules and regulations are made it will no longer possible for a small farmer or his wife to keep poultry. I am informed that this is not the intention of the bill.”
Mr Andrews added: “If they wish, the small farmer or his wife will be able to rear a few chicks. They can rear them either for killing or for eating. It is not the intention to interfere with that sort of small effort on a farm.”