I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.
The general development of marts is of relatively modern origin in the livestock trade of this country but, in the fairly short number of years covered, the marts have developed to the point where they occupy a most important position in the trade and are a vital link in the marketing chain for our livestock. As there has been no official control of any kind over such marts, statistics are not available as to the extent of their business but there is no doubt but that the numbers of cattle, sheep and pigs passing through the marts each year represent a substantial proportion of total livestock marketings.
The establishment of efficient livestock marts both by co-operative groups and by private individuals has been a useful development but it has been a haphazard one. Timely action is desirable to ensure not only that the development proceeds on orderly lines but that the individual marts at all times serve the best interests of the producers and traders depending on them.
It is not the object of this Bill to hinder in the slightest way the legitimate operations of livestock marts or to prevent the establishment of new marts in areas not already catered for. Its purposes are to exercise a reasonable degree of control over the establishment of new livestock marts, to ensure for example that there is no uneconomic overlapping where a tendency to undesirable proliferation may occur in particular areas and also to ensure that adequate facilities of various kinds are provided and that the services of the marts are available fairly and reasonably to all clients. I might mention that licences from me are in fact already required in respect of public sales of livestock in Dublin but not in respect of sales in other parts of the country.
International regulations governing trade in meat and livestock are also now providing for more stringent controls on meat processing plants, and on the movement of animals prior to export. Meat factories are, of course, already licensed. The present Bill will facilitate the implementation of such requirements in regard to animal health and hygiene supervision and control at marts that may become necessary for the purposes of our export trade. I might mention that a draft directive governing trade in meat and livestock with third countries has recently been drawn up by the EEC and provides, inter alia, that markets from which animals may be exported to EEC countries shall be under the control of an official veterinary surgeon and shall have been officially approved by the competent authorities of the exporting countries.
When I announced the decision recently to introduce this legislation, some people alleged that the legislation was an attack on the NFA. What I am concerned to ensure is that livestock marts should serve their legitimate functions and do so in the most efficient manner. This means among other things that the owners, whether they be co-operative societies or private individuals, must be prepared to do business with all bona fide clients who wish to use the services provided at the marts. They must not be subject to, or allow themselves to be subjected to, any pressures aimed at restricting or taking away the freedom of producers or traders to engage in lawful business transactions. Any such pressures could have the most serious economic consequences for individuals and could constitute a grave injustice to the community, which the Government could not ignore. This Bill, however, will ensure that freedom of buying and selling at marts can be preserved. I make no apology to anyone for taking steps to secure this freedom for Irish farmers and exporters and to ensure frustration of efforts of any group to arrogate to itself the right to say who should sell or buy at a mart.
The Bill itself is a comparatively short and uncomplicated measure. Under sections 2 and 3 a licence will be necessary for any livestock mart. Existing livestock marts will automatically qualify for licences but will, of course, naturally have to comply with the general requirements as regards facilities, etc., which will be laid down in regulations for all marts. It is my intention to allow any existing mart which may not yet be meeting any of these requirements a reasonable period in which to do so. Any contravention of the conditions of a licence will involve liability to prosecution. A licence may also be revoked if the holder is guilty of an offence under the Act—this is, of course, a necessary sanction of last resort.
Under section 4 provision is made for exempting occasional sales. This is intended to cover special kinds of sales, such as those carried out at Royal Dublin Society Shows, which are not of the normal commercial pattern affecting stockowners generally.
Power is taken in section 6 to make regulations which will be laid before the House, prescribing such operational matters as the manner in which entries for sale are received, the manner in which auctions are conducted the accommodation and cognate facilities to be provided—such as proper segregation of animals—and the animal health and hygiene conditions to be observed. In this latter connection the handling of documents such as certificates and "blue cards" requires special consideration. Another matter which it would be desirable to cover is the safeguarding of the financial interests of farmers selling livestock at marts. Any regulations under section 6 may, of course, be annulled by resolution of the House.
In section 7 the usual powers are given to authorised officers to inspect premises and documents, to take copies of documents, to request the furnishing of information etc. The remaining sections deal routinely with offences, laying of Orders before each House of the Oireachtas and expenses. The expenses will relate mainly to staff and will not be significant. There is no requirement in the Bill for the payment by livestock marts of any form of licence or registration fee.
A rather artificial and ill-founded publicity campaign has been launched by some people against this Bill. To judge by the sort of tendentious tales they have put about, one would think that the end of the livestock marts is in sight, that the marts are going to be crushed out of existence by arbitrary and dictatorial action, and so on.
These stories are, of course, entirely without foundation.
No new policy, principle or procedure is introduced by this Bill, which is long overdue and is only one in a long line of enactments passed under Fine Gael, Coalition and Fianna Fáil Governments for the regulation and control of the marketing of agricultural products in one form or another. Nobody has contended that any of those measures, passed by this House, has done anything but good and nobody has contended that their operation has been unfair, too severe or arbitrary. The same will hold for the present Bill.
To give just a few examples of these various measures I will mention the following Acts of the Oireachtas which introduced licensing or registration control of persons and/or premises by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries for such varied purposes as the achievement of better standards of marketing, hygiene, quality, equitable administration, etc., and which give the Minister very wide powers in regard to the refusal and revocation of licences or registration.
The Dairy Produce Act, 1924, provides for the registration of creameries while the Creamery Act of 1928 gives the Minister discretion as regards the granting of a licence for a new creamery and empowers him to attach to the licence such conditions as he thinks proper.
Under the Pigs and Bacon Act, 1935, granting of a licence for a new bacon factory is, except for one particular type of case, at the absolute discretion of the Minister.
Under the Poultry Hatcheries Act, 1947, the granting of a licence for a hatchery or of approval for a supply farm is at the absolute discretion of the Minister, and the same applies to the revocation of a licence or withdrawal of approval.
Similarly, under the Live Stock (Artificial Insemination) Act, 1947, the granting and revocation of licences for artificial insemination stations is entirely at the discretion of the Minister.
Under the Seed Production Act, 1955, the Minister has discretion as regards the granting of a licence to engage in production, processing and selling of certain seeds and as to the conditions attached to the licence. A licence may be revoked or the conditions altered at any time.
The Fertilisers, Feeding Stuffs and Mineral Mixtures Act, 1955, gives the Minister discretion as regards the granting of a licence for the manufacture of any of these products, the conditions attached to a licence and the revocation of a licence.
Several enactments provide for the licensing of exports and give the Minister complete discretion to grant or refuse a licence. The most important of these is the Agricultural and Fisheries Products (Regulation of Export) Act, 1947.
The present Bill is, therefore, in full conformity with the policies and powers already enshrined in our legislation for very many years, right back to the 1920s. The Bill when enacted will be administered with the same scrupulous fairness and understanding as all the other measures I have mentioned, and which have proved so successful. I am convinced that it will prove a boon to the livestock marts industry and will contribute to a further expansion of its activities by introducing uniform standards, by giving them the explicit approval of the State and by checking any tendency to unnecessary proliferation of marts to the detriment of existing establishments.
I commend the Bill to the House and ask that it be given a Second Reading.