I move: "That the Bill be read a Second Time." The purpose of the amendments being proposed in this Bill fall under two headings: first, the penalties provided in the original Act for offences are being brought up to date; and second, certain provisions in the Act as regards the making of Orders are being strengthened.
There is no basic change in the main thrust and purpose of the Act of 1958. That Act is serving its purpose well. It is interesting to note that the 1958 Act was itself a Consolidation Act which put into one piece of legislation a number of old Acts going back as far as 1877. The 1958 Act is still quite satisfactory for the controls we need in order to keep the country free from damage to crops through insects or pests which may be imported or which may be found within the country.
It would be as well to sketch out broadly for Deputies how the Act of 1958 operates. The Act gives wide power to the Minister by way of orders to be made by him to prevent the bringing into the State of destructive insects and pests. That is the first main aim of the Act.
The second aim is the extensive powers given to the Minister, again by orders, to prevent the spread of destructive insects or pests found in the country. Many orders of course, have already, been made under the 1958 Act and are operative.
There is a specific provision in the Act of 1958 in regard to the spraying of potatoes. This deals with the situation where a destructive pest, Colorado beetle for example, is found in a potato crop. There is provision to make sure the crop and surrounding at risk crops are sprayed in order to get rid of or prevent the establishment of the pest.
These controls have served us well. This country is fortunate in having a very good standard of plant health. Thankfully we have remained free from a number of destructive insects and pests which are to be found on mainland Europe and elsewhere abroad. This fortunate position is attributable primarily to our island situation which forms a barrier against the natural migratory movements of destructive insects and pests. Of great importance also is the fact that for many years we have operated strict controls on imports of plants and plant products. This is only as it should be. The maintenance of high health standards over the whole range of livestock, crop and horticultural products is of immense importance to our entire economy. We must do all we can to maintain and to improve these standards as much as possible.
I would like at this point to explain to the House that since our entry into the European Community in 1973 there has been a change in the legislative provisions under which we operate as regards importations of plant material from member states of the Community. The Community system no longer allowed us to insist on licensing control on imports from other member states. However, under the EC system we continue to insist on health certificates issued by the authorities of the exporting member state. We also have the right to check a proportion of imports at the point of import. In addition, there are a number of Community provisions which safeguard individual member states from particular destructive insects and pests of which they are free.
At the present time the Community is considering the plant health controls which will operate in the Internal Market after 1992. A good deal of negotiations has yet to be gone through before the post-1992 control system will take final shape. Our objective in these negotiations is, of course, that while having full regard to the implications of 1992 and afterwards we will be striving to ensure that any changes in procedures will not leave us open to unacceptable risks.
The explanatory and financial memorandum circulated with the Bill gives information about the provisions of the different sections. I would, however, like to make some comments on what is being provided.
Section 2 provides that a person who does not respect the provisions of an order made under certain sections of the 1958 Act shall be guilty of an offence. This provision remedies a deficiency in the earlier Act which did not specify that such an offence would be created. Section 2 of the Bill also strengthens the Minister's powers to make orders under sections 2 and 3 of the original Act.
Section 3 of the Bill extends the area of offence in section 8 of the 1958 Act; that is the section dealing with the spraying of potatoes.
We now come to section 4 where it is proposed to update the provisions for fines in the 1958 Act. The 1958 Act provided for fines of £10 in some cases and £20 in others. These amounts are now very much out of date considering change in the value of money in the meantime. On the advice of the Attorney General we are now providing for fines on summary conviction up to a maximum of £1,000 or for imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to a combination of both fine and imprisonment.
It is well to take note that these are serious punishments, but we are dealing with a serious matter. Untold damage could be done by the illegal bringing into this country of matter contaminated by insects or pests which could ruin a particular sector of our economy with great damage to the producers and traders involved in that business. There could also be costs by way of compensation and the cost of maintaining elaborate controls which the State may have to set up where outbreaks of this kind take place. I hope that these increases in fines and the provision of imprisonment in the Bill will be given wide publicity but I would also like to stress at this point that with the overall increases in commerce and the great increases in movement of people and goods all around us today that we should be more conscious of the need to have full regard to what this legislation is setting out to do. A better informed and responsible public attitude can do an immense amount of good in areas like those with which this Bill is dealing and indeed in other areas involving disease control in the agriculture sector. Of great value also is the attitudes seen to be coming from the people directly involved in the product area to which the disease control measures apply. I am referring here to farming and trading organisations as well as to groups concerned with the supply of services and materials to producers.
Section 5 of the Bill deals with the extension of responsibility for offences to corporate bodies.
These are the main points which I would like to make in recommending this Bill to the House. It is a short Bill but an important one. The Bill has a particular significance for me because of my responsibilities in regard to the horticulture industry. The Oireachtas has given An Bord Glas the task of developing the horticulture industry so that we can greatly reduce our dependence on imports and thereby create a better situation for horticulture producers, for the whole economy and for employment.
Very important also in the work of An Bord Glas is the development of the export trade and we already have in horticulture some very valuable export sectors. We also have the possibility of extending greatly our export trade in other sectors. I just would like to mention, simply as an example, the possibilities which we have in increasing our trade in hardy nursery stock; that is the business of growing shrubs and trees for resale to garden centres, to public authorities and indeed to large scale private users of this material in other countries. For all of this export trade, it is of vital importance that we retain a high and continuing reputation for standards of plant health which are second to none and also we should be seen to keep right up to date our efforts to maintain our controls at the highest possible level of efficiency.
Finally I would like to pay tribute to the various staffs in the Department of Agriculture and Food and in other State organisations who are involved in the formualtion and operation of these very important controls. They are doing a good job and I would like to compliment them.
I commend the Bill to the House for a Second Reading.