This Bill became necessary because of neglect by the Government to bring forward their proposals on this matter at the proper time. If they had been doing their business in a proper manner—they were not because they were thinking of other things—this Bill would have been ready soon after the election. People were appointed to the county committees of agriculture statutorily for five years and the purpose of this Bill is to remove them. Let us be straight, that is the reason for the Bill.
County committees of agriculture may have been lackadaisical in some areas, they may not have been doing their work as they should have, but in County Kildare they did a job second to none and I defy any Minister to contradict me. People were appointed to these committees who were interested in the progress of agricultural education. This Bill removes them, completely quashes these committees whose statutory power has been removed completely. In fact they will not have statutory powers any more. Their only function will be in an advisory capacity and we know what happened when such bodies made suggestions to a higher authority—they have been pared and cut down.
This position has been allowed to drag on and it would have been better to have left it until after the local elections. This Bill gets rid of the lot. The criteria by which the Minister will select the various rural organisations for representation on the country committees, other than members of local authorities, are unusual.
At the first meeting after the implementation of this Bill the duty of the local authority is to elect 60 per cent of the members of the new committee and that will be done. The Minister must then name the various rural organisations which are to nominate people for that committee. As the Minister of State is, I am sure, well aware, there are already in motion all sorts of political manoeuvrings, even so far as naming the people to be put forward by that committee. Various committees are hoping that by making known now those they wish to represent them and their politics that they will politically influence the decision of the Minister. That is being done left, right and centre. These moves are on foot, for various reasons, to influence the kind of people or the kind of organisation to be selected.
The Minister has a serious problem on his hands if he wishes to do his job impartially in the interest of agriculture, which is how it should be done. He will be open to criticisms if the people selected are of a certain political persuasion, which should not be. There should be some other way of appointing the best men rather than having a political head of a Department saying who they should be. The Minister is on very dangerous ground and may be making a mistake.
There are various people who should have representation on the committee of agriculture—or the so-called committee of agriculture, because it will have a lot less power than previously. In effect, its power is well nigh gone. This change was necessary in some areas, but as far as the Kildare committee of agriculture are concerned, I certainly refute that completely. Their record shows that they were the most progressive committee down through the years, irrespective of who had political sway on it. The reason is that they had top officials who had one interest only and that was the advancement of agriculture in the area. They were able to get the message across to the political parties representatives on these committees of agriculture, that agriculture was first and political wrangling or whatever was second.
The Minister has another difficulty. I have a great fear that for his own comvenience and as an easy way of performing his duty he will nominate one, two or three organisations all over the country to be members of the committee, without examining the position in detail. That would be a serious mistake. I shall give one example. The committee of agriculture for Kildare have unanimously passed and sent a resolution to the Minister that the horse breeding industry should be represented in Kildare. This has no political kudos for me but horse breeding is a predominant part of agriculture in Kildare and therefore should be represented on this new committee. Possibly it would not be fair to represent horse breeders in another area. One would have to study all the factors within the area covered by the committee and the representation should reflect the kind of agricultural operation carried out in that area. The last speaker mentioned a particular interest in Wexford, which is fair enough.
Many areas have no farm workers and many areas have a lot employed in agriculture. In the areas which have a lot of workers—and my own would be one—there should be a trade union representative or someone to represent the farm workers' organisations. The Government have professed an interest in this. When the original mother Bill, if I may call it that, was being discussed, I made the point that on the body of AnCo there should be representation of the various interests, a proportion of the workers. The same applies to the agricultural committees which should represent all the people in the area interested in agriculture—people like the small farmers, the Land League, the IFA, the Irish Country Women's Association.
A lot of investigation must be done before the members for, say, Kildare or Wexford, Donegal or elsewhere can be nominated. The structure of agriculture is absolutely different in one place from another, the organisations in these areas are also completely different. It is only natural that if the structure of farming is different the organisations entitled to be represented on the committee should be different. The Minister has an onerous job on his hands in regard to these appointments. Any political head of a Department would be very foolish to get himself into that kind of situation. No matter what he does, he will be accused of playing politics. No matter what kind of criteria he uses, a certain amount of people, probably of his own political persuasion, will be appointed and it will be alleged—and I am not saying that it will be true—that there is political influence and it will shake the confidence of the ordinary farmer in the whole operation of this new committee system.
This amending legislation would not have been necessary at all if no one had been statutorily appointed as a member of a committee of agriculture other than under this Bill. Now, however, we have a situation where people have been appointed for five years, for the duration of that county council, and this Bill is necessary to throw them out, which throws out the whole lot. It also, in effect, changes the system of employment of the agricultural advisory body. This may be a follow-up Bill but it is a serious one. The Minister did not do his work in time and he had plenty of time to do it. If for some reason, bitterness or otherwise, he wanted to change an Act previously implemented in this House he should have done this in time so that it would be the normal process after the local authority elections. Failing that, he would be better advised to leave it so, as far as that section of the Act is concerned, until after the next local elections.
In effect, we are doing a lot more in this very change than just changing the people represented on the committees of agriculture. We are appointing them to a committee with no power and no income. We will collect a portion of the money from the county council but the local people will not be given the power to spend the money. They may make recommendations that will be sent to the governing body but ultimately it will be the Department who will make the final decision. They will decide if a programme is to be carried out. From my knowledge of any scheme that has to be submitted to a local authority and sent finally to the Department, I must admit that I fear the programmes will not be implemented. This year a new scheme has been introduced in relation to scholarships. I am not disagreeing with what is being done. The scheme is a good one because a full scholarship is given only to people under a certain valuation and that is fair enough. It cannot be denied that we are cutting back on finances. Fewer scholarships have been granted this year than previous years. Daily we are diminishing the power of local authorities.