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 The following Acts will be repealed: The Agriculture and Technical Instruction (Ireland) Act, 1899; the Agriculture and Technical Instruction (Ireland) Act, 1902; and the Agriculture and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refer both to agriculture and to technical instruction, and, so far as technical instruction is concerned, have been repealed by the Vocational Education Act, 1930.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 The Vocational Education Act, 1930, has also repealed the Technical Instruction Acts, 1889 and 1891.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.