I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. I should like to say that this is a Bill that can more suitably be discussed section by section in Committee rather than in the normal way on Second Reading. The Bill is directed largely towards bringing the provisions dealing with county committees of agriculture into line with what has been enacted in the Local Government Act of 1941 regarding county councils, and in the Vocational Education Act dealing with Vocational Education Committees.
The first point in the Bill deals with the travelling expenses of members of county committees of agriculture. This matter has been dealt with so far under Section 18 of the Agriculture Act of 1931. In that section it is laid down that there will have to be a minimum attendance of at least 50 per cent. for the year in order that a member may be eligible for the payment of travelling expenses. It is also laid down there that the expenses will be 4d. per mile by rail, or 5d. per mile otherwise, one way only. This Bill makes a change there and it lays down that reasonable expenses may be charged, as incurred, and, of course, they can be charged both ways, both to and from the meeting.
This section has been introduced in order to recoup members any out-of-pocket expenses they may incur attending meetings of the county committee, whether they travel by rail or road. It will be necessary to bring in an amendment to this section on the Committee Stage. One matter that was drawn to my attention, and to the attention of the Department, since the Bill was circulated, was the attendance of members at sub-committee meetings. That does not appear to be covered by this section, and I intend to ask the Dáil to agree to an amendment on the Committee Stage which will cover attendances at meetings of sub-committees of the county committees of agriculture.
Section 3 deals with the question of benefits under the schemes that are administered by the county committees of agriculture. At the present time no member of a county committee, or his partner, including his wife, can benefit from any scheme administered by the county committee. No member of the county council can benefit from any such scheme. That is not equitable because, in the first place, a member of the county council has no influence whatever on the procedure of the county committee. If a member of the county council, for instance, has a premium bull there is no reason why he should not be permitted to keep that bull and benefit from the scheme. Members of the county council will no longer be ineligible for any schemes administered by the county committees.
This section goes farther than that, because it gives the Minister for Agriculture power to make certain exceptions either in a general way or in a particular way. I will give the House some examples of what I have in mind. Take for instance the lime scheme. That is a scheme that every farmer ought to derive some benefit from. There is no reason why a member of the county committee should not get lime like everybody else, because there is enough lime for everybody, and the fact that he is a member of the county committee does not entitle him to any special treatment from any scheme of that kind. Therefore, I think that members of the county committee should be exempted from the provision that would prevent them from sharing in the benefits of a scheme of that kind.
Deputies may wonder why we are taking power to make exemptions in particular cases. One case that was put to me concerned a member who had a premium bull. He had this bull for about a year and then became a member of the county committee. If that man accepted a nomination to become a member of the county committee he would have to get rid of the bull. I do not see any reason why a man like that should be compelled to get rid of the bull if he was a desirable person on the county committee. Therefore, I think that an exception should be made in such cases. I do not say that, in general, we would exempt members of the county committees in regard to the benefits of the premium bull scheme. That might be bad for the reason that there is a certain amount of competition amongst farmers to get one of these bulls. Where there is that element of competition I do not think that we could allow members of the county committee to partake in the competition. In the case, however, that I have mentioned, of the man who had already got the beast, he had the choice either of declining membership of the county committee or, if he accepted it, of giving up the bull. Apart from that, I should say that it is intended to continue those restrictions in general as regards premium bulls or other schemes administered by the county committees as well, of course, as in the case of contracts given out by the county committees. It would not be legal to give a member of the county committee any contract that the county committee had the giving of. I think that covers all that I have to say on Section 3.
Section 4 is necessary in order to implement Section 5. Section 5 deals with the dissolution of county committees of agriculture for neglect of duty, etc. The present position is that a committee cannot be dissolved unless the county council is first dissolved. That is not a desirable position. It is a very cumbersome way of dissolving a county committee of agriculture that may be guilty of neglect, of malpractices or anything else. In doing this we are only bringing this Bill into line with two other Acts that have already been passed: the Local Government Act of 1941, and the Vocational Education Act of 1930. This power is already there as far as the county councils and the vocational committees are concerned.
Section 6 regarding returns, information, etc., is similar to Section 84 in the Local Government Act of 1941. Section 7 is somewhat of an innovation. I do not know if there is any similar provision in the Local Government Act, or in the Vocational Education Act. We in the Department of Agriculture find it necessary from time to time to hold conferences with various inspectors. It is sometimes very desirable at these conferences to have the county instructors present so that they can speak for their counties. In addition, they can get, first-hand, the policy of the Department concerning any particular issue, as well as instructions for the carrying out of any schemes that may be considered. On a few occasions in the past—not very often—we found that county committees refused permission to their county instructors to attend these conferences. The object of this section is to impose on the county committees the duty of allowing their officers to attend any conferences of that kind that may be called by the Department.
Section 8 is similar to a provision already laid down in the Local Government Act, 1941, and in the Vocational Education Bill. That is to say—there is an age limit for the retirement of officers. It gives the Minister power to make the necessary regulations for the retirement of officers when they reach a certain age. Section 9 deals with the suspension of officers of county committees of agriculture. That is not very different from the power already given under the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act, 1926, except in this way that in addition to suspending an officer we may compel him to hand up any papers or documents that he may have in his possession.