Agriculture Bill, 1930—Second Stage.

I move the Second Reading of this Bill. This Bill is necessary. It aims at regularising a certain number of matters which were not dealt with in the Ministers and Secretaries Act. Advantage is taken to deal with a corporate body commonly known as "the Department," which was established by the Agriculture and Technical Instruction (Ireland) Act, 1899, under the title "The Department of Agriculture and Other Industries and Technical Instruction for Ireland." As originally created, it exercised functions not only in relation to agriculture, but also to technical instruction and to sea and inland fisheries. Its functions in regard to technical instruction and fisheries have already been transferred to the Department of Education and the Department of Lands and Fisheries respectively. It is now proposed to dissolve the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction and to transfer all its powers, duties and functions, as well as property, to the Minister for Agriculture. The following Acts will be repealed: The Agriculture and Technical Instruction (Ireland) Act, 1899; the Agriculture and Technical Instruction (Ireland) Act, 1902; and the Agriculture and Technical Instruction (Ireland) No. 2 Act, 1902.

The first two named Acts refer both to agriculture and to technical instruction, and, so far as technical instruction is concerned, have been repealed by the Vocational Education Act, 1930. The No. 2 Act of 1902 relates to certain moneys placed at the disposal of the Department, and are not now required. It is, therefore, proposed to repeal it. The Vocational Education Act, 1930, has also repealed the Technical Instruction Acts, 1889 and 1891.

The underlying idea in the financing of local schemes of agriculture and technical instruction was that local authorities should contribute rates in aid of such schemes, and that the sums so raised should be supplemented by contributions from the State. The Acts of 1889 and 1891 provided for the levy of a rate of 1d. in the £ for purposes of technical instruction and agriculture and technical instruction, but it also contained a provision that the 1d. rate raised under the Technical Instruction Acts, 1889 and 1891, could also be applied for purposes of agriculture as well as for technical instruction. All county councils have exercised their powers to raise rates under these several Acts, with three exceptions, and have in fact levied rates of 2d. in the £ for purposes of agriculture and technical instruction. On the 1st April, 1931, however, the power to levy rates under the Acts of 1889 and 1891 will disappear, and only 1d. at the outset can be levied for purposes of agriculture, unless the new provisions as to rating contained in this Bill are put into effect before rates are struck for the financial year beginning on the 1st April, 1931. In all counties, except three, the maximum rate of 2d. in the £ is being levied. Of the total amount raised, 70 per cent. is applied to agriculture. In no county is the amount applied to agriculture less than a rate of 1d. in the £.

For some years past it has been felt that the rates which may be levied for agriculture are not sufficient for the needs of local schemes of agriculture. It is proposed to make it mandatory on every county council to raise in each financial year for the purpose of agriculture a sum equal to not less than a rate of 2d. in the £, and if the council sees fit it may raise an additional sum equal to not more than a rate of 1d. in the £.

I may say the cost of the schemes which are paid for in part out of this amounts to £83,159. Of this amount £48,000 is raised by the Vote and £69,000 is completed by taxes. That is really in the first and important provision of the Bill. This Bill also abolishes the Council of Agriculture and the Board of Agriculture. The Council of Agriculture had no real function apart from being a debating society to elect the Board of Agriculture. The Board of Agriculture had the spending of the Endowment Fund, about £200,000 a year, and the sanctioning of any payment out of the Endowment Fund. These functions are now performed by the Dáil. The Board of Agriculture was all right in its time. Before there was a Parliament in this country it was quite good business. Certain sums were to be granted each year from the Treasury, and should not be subject each year to be voted by a Treasury which had no great interest in the country. So it was sound enough to get £200,000 for a large number of years permanently voted to the Department of Agriculture. If that were to be done someone had to make arrangements for the detailed spending of the money. The Board of Agriculture did that, but now we are in an entirely different position. The schemes are voted by the Dáil. Therefore it is proposed to abolish both the Council and the Board of Agriculture. We do provide in this Bill that consultative bodies such as the Consultative Council set up in the Dairy Produce and the Eggs Act should be established by the Minister. These bodies have special knowledge and technical skill to advise the Minister on some specific point.

We also make certain provisions with regard to county committees of agriculture. The position of committees of agriculture in relation to county councils has received very careful consideration. Hitherto local schemes of agriculture have been administered by committees appointed by the county councils, but it was open to county councils themselves to administer the schemes without the assistance of a committee. In future a committee of agriculture must be appointed in each county. The experience gained in the past 30 years has shown that, generally, committees of agriculture were too large and unwiedly and that despite their size they did not adequately represent the various districts comprised in the county. Difficulty was also experienced in obtaining a quorum at meetings, notwithstanding the size of the committees, the attendance of many members being confined to meetings at which appointments were being made. Provision is contained in the Second Schedule to the Bill for dealing with members who do not attend regularly, and also with the size of the committees which shall comprise a number of members not less than three times nor more than four times the number of county electoral areas in the county. The number of such areas varies from 4 to 8 so that the membership of a committee will accordingly vary at the discretion of the county council from a minimum of 12 or 24 as the case may be to a maximum of 16 or 32. The committee may be composed wholly or partly of such members, and membership will be confined to persons who have practical knowledge of agriculture. The Bill provides that members of county committees shall have a knowledge of or some interest in agriculture. Whether that provision is something more than a pious opinion is another matter. Everybody could claim that they had some interest in agriculture.

Generally committees of agriculture will be very largely independent of a county council, but three functions have been reserved to the county council, namely, (1) borrowing, (2) raising of rates, and (3) creation of any pensionable office within the meaning of the Local Government Act, 1925.

A committee of agriculture will be deemed to be either local authorities or committees of the county council only for specific purposes. They will be local bodies within the meaning of Part 4 of the Local Government Act, 1925, so as to enable their officers to participate in the superannuation benefits of the Act of 1925. They will also be local authorities for the purpose of certain provisions of the Act of 1925, and they will be committees of county councils for purposes of the payment of travelling expenses of members.

A considerable portion of the Department's whole-time permanent staff were at one time paid out of certain "special funds" placed at the disposal of the Department under various enactments. As these funds were not "moneys voted by the Oireachtas" within the meaning of Section 17 of the Superannuation Act, 1859, the Minister for Finance is precluded, under the existing law, from granting to these officers and employees any superannuation allowance in respect of their service during the periods while they were so paid.

Many of these officers and employees have had long and meritorious service paid for out of the special funds, and while so paid have carried out duties analogous to those carried out by officers paid from voted moneys. They have, therefore, an equitable claim to be placed on the same footing as regards superannuation benefits as the officers who during their entire service were paid from voted moneys. Accordingly a clause is included in the Bill enabling the Minister for Finance to grant superannuation or other allowances or gratuities on the scale laid down in the Superannuation Acts to the officers and employees in question as if they had been paid throughout their service under the Department from voted moneys.

Some of the officers in question served during portions of their careers under county committees or joint committes appointed for the purposes of the Agriculture and Technical Instruction (Ireland) Act, 1899, and were transferred from the county committee's service to the Department's direct service prior to 7th December, 1922, and, consequently, are debarred from the superannuation benefits granted to county committee officers by the Local Government Act, 1925. Some served during portions of their careers under other Government Departments or boards of commissioners, such as veterinary inspectors. It is proposed, accordingly, that in calculating for the purposes of the Superannuation Acts the period in respect of which superannuation allowances may be granted in the case of such officers their service under county committees or other Government Departments shall be reckoned as if it were service under the Department direct.

Proposals for extending superannuation benefits to Endowment Fund officers, who constitute a large proportion of the officers referred to, were agreed to by the British Treasury in 1914, but owing to the outbreak of the European War these proposals were not made effective. Provision, however, is now made in the Bill to apply the superannuation clauses retrospectively; but certain cases of exceptional hardship can be dealt with by granting extra-statutory gratuities. A somewhat similar scheme to that now proposed was agreed to for officers of the Congested Districts Board in 1920, and a superannuation scheme for Forestry officers was in course of preparation at the time the Forestry Commissioners ceased to function in the Irish Free State. These are the main provisions of the Bill.

The Bill really does not affect the people very much. It is merely an internal departmental matter for the most part. There are some clauses that do affect the people in their relations with the Government that we object to, but, on the whole, things will not be very much different from what they have been up to the present. I see here a clause about consultative councils. I think there have been powers given to the Department to set up these consultative councils already, and the Minister did not make very much use of them, especially in regard to tillage. If he postpones setting up councils in regard to tillage for any time, he will have to send to Russia or Germany to get experts to consult. I hope that under the clause dealing with superannuation the claims of veterinary surgeons to be established will be met, and that they will be put on the same footing as other civil servants. I think the whole matter has been too long delayed. The Minister has often praised these officers, and it is up to him now to make restitution and give them the same status, at least, as civil servants who are in other departments of the State for a long time. The Minister is assuming a lot of powers he has had already to direct the activities of the local committees of agriculture. The county councils will be compelled to strike a rate of 2d. in the £. Some of the local committees of agriculture have complained that the Department refused to sanction schemes, and that they forced schemes on these committees. As, under this Bill, the Minister still retains authority to force the committees of agriculture to accept his schemes and also to reject any schemes put up by the local people, we will have to oppose this clause forcing the local people to strike this rate of 2d. That is a Committee matter, and we can deal with it in detail on the Committee Stage. I should like just to say that I know of schemes put up by the Louth County Council to encourage the growing of wheat on small holdings, and the Department would not allow them to spend more than £10 on them, and, on the other hand, forced them to give £15 for ploughing matches. I think the people in Louth know how to plough as well even as the people in Wexford, and they do not want any encouragement in that way. It would have been much better if the money had been spent in the way that the committee of agriculture thought best. We are going to agree to the Second Reading of the Bill. It does not make many changes. The £688,000 spent by the Department of Agriculture and the Forestry Branch will still continue to be spent, and this Bill is not, I suppose, going to make the Minister spend this money any more effectively. I suppose we shall have to wait for another occasion to tell him how he could spend the money more effectively.

There is some information that one would like to have from the Minister before the Bill is given a Second Reading. He told us that power is taken to make a levy of 2d. for agricultural purposes. I take it this is very largely for agricultural education.

Mr. Hogan

No.

We would like to know exactly what the levy is for. A levy is also made under the Vocational Education Act, and I should like to know the relation between the two levies, and, if they are for different purposes, to what purpose each is to be applied. One would also like to know the relations exactly between agricultural education in the future and the jurisdiction of the Vocational committees. Will agricultural education, as applied to youth, in future come under the jurisdiction of the vocational committees in the different areas, or will it still be under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture? That is a point one would like cleared up. Then, also, the Minister spoke of the appointment of a consultative council. Will that council be a different body from the agricultural committee he spoke about? One would also like to know what the relations of these two new bodies will be to the vocational committees in their particular area. One would like to see the functions of each of these bodies very clearly defined. I should like the Minister to say exactly how this policy of agricultural education is to be carried out in future under the Department and under which committee it will be administered. These are points one would like some information about before one agrees to the Second Reading.

Mr. Hogan

With regard to Deputy Good's points first. The educational work done by county committees of agriculture is mainly done through the county instructors, and they are paid partly out of voted money and partly out of money raised by rating. In the country a certain amount of educational work is done by the county committees of agriculture, or rather, by the county councils through the committees of agriculture. That educational work is done by instructors who are available to every farmer who wants to consult them as to livestock, tillage, manures, seeding, etc. There are a number of these officers in each county paid for out of this general fund, and this fund is fed by a rate and by taxation. That is the educational side of the work of the Department of Agriculture.

Mr. O'Connell

What about the agricultural classes?

Mr. Hogan

I should have mentioned the agricultural classes. The agricultural classes are only a small part of the educational work of the county committees.

Mr. O'Connell

Will these continue to be under the Minister for Agriculture?

Mr. Hogan

Of course.

The Minister for Education would have no jurisdiction, I take it.

Mr. Hogan

Not that I know of.

That seems an extraordinary thing.

Mr. Hogan

After all, I do not understand that. I cannot see how it can be otherwise. There are certain officers in each county whose duty it is to advise the farmer on any problems about which he likes to consult them. It is their duty also to put into operation live stock and other schemes for each county. These consist of premiums for bulls, boars, etc. The committee choose the farmers who get premium animals and advise the county councils as to the number of premiums necessary or desirable. They make arrangements for demonstration plots with regard to manures, seeds, etc. These are all purely and simply agricultural officers. It would be a very extraordinary situation if they were under the Minister for Education. What does he know about premium bulls and live stock? But it would be an equally extraordinary position if an officer of that sort, who is after all a practical man and got a good training in agriculture in the old days in the College of Science, and later on in the universities, and in addition has a considerable amount of practical experience by reason of the fact that he is operating in the county, and was there to advise any farmer who wanted to consult him on any problem, and was not allowed to act on the technical ground that he was not an officer of the Department of Education. That would be the position the Deputy wants to bring about.

Mr. O'Connell

What is troubling me is whether the organisation of agricultural classes in the area will cut across other classes by the Minister for Education under the Vocational Act.

Mr. Hogan

After all there is not such a distance between Merrion Street and Hume Street that we cannot co-ordinate things a little, and there is not such a rush for the education of the agricultural classes. There is no fear of classes cutting across one another. There are technical instructors in parishes as well as agricultural classes, and very little co-ordination could ensure that. They do not take place at the same hour of the day in the same village. I could give an undertaking to both Deputies that that will not occur.

Still, the education will be administered by two different Departments.

Mr. Hogan

It will. Education is a very wide word, a very comprehensive word. Here is an officer whose main purpose is to administer the scheme, and what the Deputy is really objecting to is that in addition he is free to give information and put his technical and agricultural skill to use to the benefit of every farmer in the county.

I am not objecting to that.

Mr. Hogan

Then I do not get the Deputy's point. If you like, they are not educational at all. Let us put it that way. They are not educational schemes for the county. We do not deal with education at all, if you wish. We have a great many officers carrying out live stock schemes and advising farmers, but not educational schemes pure and simple at all.

Is there to be instruction given in the technical school in agricultural subjects? If so, under which Department is that instruction to be given?

Mr. Hogan

There is no instruction in the technical school in agriculture dealt with under the Vocational Act. Agricultural education in this country consists in the instruction given by our county instructors, by officers of the county committees in the counties, by officers of the Department in the counties and at the institutes of the Department and at their colleges throughout the country subsidised by the Department. But so far as I know there is no agricultural teaching in any of the schools schemes dealt with under the Vocational Education Act.

I think the possibility is included in their scheme.

Mr. Hogan

The possibility may be there.

I think it is mentioned in the Act.

I think it was the intention that it should be administered by the Department of Education.

Mr. Hogan

There is no such scheme, so far as I know, administered at the present time. In any event, my position is: there are certain officers here who are officers of the various county committees and officers of the Department of Agriculture for the purpose of carrying out live stock schemes, and, in addition to that, advising the farmers. These are the only officers with whom I am concerned in this Bill, and they have always been there. We are not abolishing them. If we did there would be considerable objection. There is no connection between these agricultural county committees which existed since 1899 and the consultative councils to be set up under this Bill to which Deputy Good and Deputy Aiken referred.

We have set up consultative councils already. If we did we did it under powers under specific Acts such as the Dairy Produce Act and the Eggs Act. We provided that councils might be set up in regard to eggs and butter. Here we are taking general powers for the Minister to set up a consultative council in connection with any branch of agriculture. That would be a council really of technicians—of people with special knowledge, who would advise the Minister. He would, of course, be free to take their advice or refuse it. The important point is that this council would not be composed of laymen, but of technical men, of experts and men with special knowledge in any particular subject.

They would be temporary advisers, not permanent.

Mr. Hogan

Gratuitous advisers such as under the Dairy Produce Act or the Live Stock Breeding Act, who have special knowledge and whose views are available. We provide here that the Minister may set up such a council to advise on any specific question. There is no connection whatever between that and committees. Deputy Aiken pointed out in this connection that the powers of the county council to raise a rate, say, for 2d. in the £ for agriculture is a Committee question, and he indicated that the Opposition Party would probably oppose it. I think Deputy Good was concerned also with the finances of this scheme. As I have mentioned already, these schemes are mainly schemes for bringing in stock, and in addition to that that the rates and taxes for local authorities pay not only for these animals, but for agricultural instructors, and pay for certain experimental work done by agricultural instructors in the country. For the whole lot such as they are the cost is about £131,000 a year at the present moment. All these schemes are initiated by local bodies. You have schemes common to all counties, and you have special schemes for special counties, but such as they are they are initiated in the main by the county committees themselves. The powers of the Department are only the powers of sanction. There is never any difference of opinion between the Department and the county committees except on matters of detail.

There is a difference. They have to give way to the Department.

Mr. Hogan

The Department's powers only go so far as to enable them to refuse to sanction any scheme. The Department cannot force any scheme on the county committee. At all events, these schemes are originated in the county. They are originated by men who know the local needs. As I have already said, the cost is £131,000. Of that sum only £48,000 is found from the rates, and £83,000 has to be found from the taxes. It is to be remembered also that most counties strike over 1½d. in the £ for agriculture at present. Yet their total contribution from the rates is only £48,000, whereas the taxpayer has to find £83,000. It does not seem unfair to provide that it shall be mandatory on each council to strike a 2d. rate and so increase the amount paid from the rates and lessen the disproportion between the amount paid from the rates and the amount paid from taxes. In answer to Deputy Good also, I may say that under the Vocational Education Act it is mandatory on the counties to begin with striking a rate of 1¾d., going on to 2d., 3d., 4d., and finally to 6d. Our ideas are more modest. Instead of a 6d. rate, the maximum rate is to be 2d. Already they are striking a rate of 1½d. in the £.

That would be in addition to the rate already struck?

Mr. Hogan

Yes.

The Bill excludes urban areas.

Mr. Hogan

Yes. With these provisions the county committees would agree. I think these are the main points that have been raised in the discussion.

There was the point about the vetermary surgeons.

Mr. Hogan

It is for that express purpose, amongst others, that we introduced this Bill. I agree that the veterinary surgeons are entitled to be established. It is in order to enable the Minister for Finance to establish the veterinary surgeons and establish other officers that we are passing this Bill. We felt in justice to these officers that they should get the same terms as officers paid out of funds voted by the Oireachtas. They are getting established under this Bill.

Question—"That the Bill do pass its Second Reading"—put and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for Friday, 27th February.