In Committee on Finance. - Agriculture (Amendment) Bill, 1934—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This is a simple Bill, and the sections are self-explanatory. Section 2 refers to the filling of causal vacancies. As the Principal Act was drafted it was necessary for a person to have attended at least half the meetings held during the previous half year. That meant when a casual vacancy occurred, if someone filled the position say for two or three months before the half year was out, he couldnot possibly have attended half the meetings. This Bill provides that if a person attends half the meetings during the time he held office he will be entitled to expenses for attending meetings. Section 3 amends the Principal Act in this respect, that at present county committees of agriculture deal with horticulture, bee keeping and poultry keeping. People in urban areas are inclined to seek the assistance of the officals of the county committees, although they have no right to their services, as no rates are struck for that purpose in urban areas. It is only rural areas contribute to the upkeep of these officers apart from what was contributed from the Central Fund. The section amends that position, and in future when schemes are drawn up by county committees they cannot be availed of by dwellers in urban areas unless special provision for that purpose is made. It is intended to advise the county committees to charge dwellers in urban areas a small fee for such instruction. Section 4 refers to the borough of Dun Laoghaire. In the original Act every county electoral area had at least one representative on the county committee of agriculture. The county councils appointed the committees of agriculture and they were bound to appoint at least three representatives for each county electoral area, but not more than four, and at least one of them had to be actually resident in each county electoral area. Under the Act the county committee in Dublin appointed someone from the county electoral area of Dun Laoghaire. It was really an oversight in the Principal Act because Dun Laoghaire has absolutely nothing to do with the county committee's schemes.

Can the Minister give any reason for the restriction in Section 3, seeing many persons in urban areas look for these advantages? Is it that they are so costly that they are a burden? In my experience of public affairs the collection of small fees from people does not pay for the cost. I presume the collection will not be done by officers of the county committees. How is it proposed to collect these fees, or what will be the nature of the charges in urban areas? If this service was not abused it does not appear to be right to insert such a regulation, unless the Act has to be amended for some other reason. The Minister gave reasons why this proposal was put into the Bill. Is the cost so very great?

Dr. Ryan

The cost in the way of time is considerable. As the Deputy knows, the officials of the county committees usually work in outside areas. Their work is unlike that done under the vocational education system, where they work through classes. If it was a case where urban dwellers went to winter classes I think there would be no objection, because a few more would not make any difference. But if a number of urban dwellers were to seek the services of the poultry instructress, or if people with gardens in towns sought instruction from the horticultural instructor, it was felt that some of the officers would be more inclined to attend to the urban dwellers, because the work would be more congenial. Sometimes that was made an excuse for overwork and for not being able to attend to long-distance classes. That is why some of the county committees objected to urban dwellers getting the benefits of their schemes. The expense entailed is in the time of the officers. A small fee might be sufficient to deter people in urban areas with poultry or with gardens from looking for the services of these officers too often. I presume the fees would be collected not by the officers concerned but by the secretaries to the committees.

That is my point. There is a disposition on the part of officials of local authorities to have disputes between these authorities. At one time I knew a local authority, the ratepayers of which contributed nine-thirteenths of the cost of an institution which was involved in litigation so as to keep within the strict letter of the law. Similarly in this case if there is a departure such as this, it may be that the cost of the services may be much greater. For example take the position of a horticulture instructor near a town. Five minutes would take him into the urban area where he could give advice or instruction to a number of people. That occurs at the present time. The instructors will endeavour not to waste any time. Territory should not be an obstacle to the dissemination of knowledge. The idea of our legislation should be to spread knowledge as far as possible, so that all concerned would get the advantage. What I am afraid of is that a good deal of extra expense will be incurred by this proposal without any corresponding benefit, as people are sometimes inclined to quarrel because an officer goes outside an area.

There are times when 20 minutes or half an hour would suffice for dealing with cases in an urban area. If this proposal means that a record is to be made of the time of the officials, that bills have to be sent out, and trouble undertaken in connection with the collection of the moneys, the Minister knows quite well what elaborate administrative machinery is likely to cost. Eventually it will be found that urban dwellers will not get the advantage of these services. I am sure the Minister realises what an advantage it is generally to urban dwellers to get such advice. The very fact that people are looking for advice shows the interest they take in these schemes. I think the Minister should reconsider this matter, as it is more than likely that the cost will be so prohibitive that it will be no longer possible to give this service in urban districts.

The Minister can realise that, if a fee is charged at all, it will be something in the nature of half-a-crown. To a poor urban dweller who wishes to avail of this advice or instruction, half-a-crown is a considerable impediment and may result in his not getting the instruction at all. If these people are stopped or prevented from getting it, I am not so sure that they will come along again. I think that the Minister ought to seek the counsel of the instructors as to whether or not any real advantage lies in this instruction. If a real advantage is derivable, it would be better if some extra sum were paid from headquarters, as otherwise, the cost to the individual will be so great that it will not be availed of and prove merely an interruption of the service.

Deputy Cosgrave raised a very interesting point. The point that concerns me is really an elaboration of that. The Minister says that the committees themselves will collect the fees. I do not think that we are entitled to proceed on that assumption. That is easier said than done. My own opinion is that the collection of the fees will probably depend on the particular instructor. If so, it will create a position that will be altogether dangerous, because if there is any possibility of an instructor getting fees from urban dwellers, he might, if he were an avaricious gentleman, be more inclined to work for urban dwellers than he is now. Even if he is not, and if the committee themselves collect the fees, there will be a tendency to extend the service further than it is at present availed of. In the county which I represent, the services of the instructors are not availed of in the way the Minister thinks they are. In the few cases there, I do not think that anybody grudges the poor people the services of the instructors.

The two points raised by Deputy Cosgrave are the two objections I myself should have to the Bill. The fee would not prevent the instrctors attending to urban dwellers, but would rather increase their services to these particular people. Even the collection of the fee would be rather difficult. I do not know what machinery will be arranged in that regard, but there will have to be some sort of machinery set up if the money is to be collected by the committees. It would be rather dangerous to have the collection made by individual instructors, even though they are a highly respectable body of men. It would be rather throwing a hint to them, if they were human, that they were to pay more attention to the people who would be paying than to the people who would not be paying. On the whole, I think that the Minister should reconsider that part of the Bill.

In considering the matter, will the Minister bear in mind the words of the Bill: "No resident outside the functional area". He should look into that to see whether or not a person having land in the functional area and having a residence outside the functional area is precluded from getting the assistance of the instructors.

Dr. Ryan

The last point raised by Deputy Cosgrave will certainly require consideration. I may say that, at first sight, I did not like this idea. I suppose I have a kindly mind, like the Deputy. I thought that it was a pity to see these people deprived of the advantage of this instruction but I was assured that the poorer dwellers in the towns—the working people with gardens—never sought the advice of the instructors. It was the well-to-do people in the towns who asked for the services of the horticultural instructors and also the services of the poultry instructresses. In a few cases, bee-keepers looked for advice but, in all cases, I was told, the people who sought advice were comparatively well off. The objection raised was not so much that these people were getting free advice as that the poultry instructresses and horticultural instructors were inclined to pay more attention to the urban dwellers than to the rural dwellers. They preferred to have a few visits to make in the towns to going out into the rural areas and attending to the people it was primarily intended they should help. These officers are required, as Deputies know, to keep diaries showing their work, so that it can be checked all right. The trouble is not that they spend too long with any of the urban dwellers, or that they spend a whole day in one urban area attending to two or three persons; their diaries would disclose that and would show whether or not they had done an honest day's work. But some of them—I do not say all —were in the habit of paying many more visits in the year to the urban dwellers than they would pay to the rural dwellers who were asking for their advice. For that reason, we were asked by some of the local authorities, secretaries of committees and county instructors, who now are in charge of the entire staff in a great many counties, to bring in this amendment.

Deputy Bennett may be under a misapprehension as to the fees. There is no question of the instructor collecting the fee for himself. The fee is to go into the funds of the county committee, but whether it will be collected by the secretary direct by post or whether he will go so far as to say that the fee will have to be lodged with him before the instructor will be sent, or whether the instructor will be asked to collect the fee when he calls, I cannot say. That will be a matter for regulation. If Deputies opposite had any particular desire in that respect, we should certainly fall in with it.

The Minister says that it is the well-to-do dwellers who avail of these services. That may be so, though I am not quite sure that it is. Granted that it is, a lot of urban dwellers who are fairly well-to-do do not avail of the services of these instructors because they do not want to be begging free service. If they feel that they are entitled, under this Bill, to get for a small payment the services of an instructor, you will create a demand on their part for the services of these instructors. If people understand that they are entitled to get this service for a small fee, there will be an extension of the service.

Dr. Ryan

I am not so sure of that.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for Wednesday, 18th April.
The Dáil adjourned at 7.50 p.m., until Wednesday, 18th April, at 3 p.m.