This Bill contains two main provisions. The first provision abolishes a fund which has been in existence since 1878 and which has long since outlived its usefulness. The general cattle diseases fund was set up in an attempt to spread equitably over all local authorities the cost of dealing with outbreaks of animal disease or, in other words, to prevent all the cost of a local outbreak of disease from falling on one or on a very few local authorities at the time of the outbreak.
At the time the fund was set up local bodies had smaller areas to administer than the present counties and they also had functions in relation to diseases such as cattle plague and pleuro-pneumonia which have since been eradicated, or diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, swine fever, etc., which are now dealt with directly by the Department of Agriculture. The functions of local authorities in relation to animal diseases are now confined to (1) the appointment of local veterinary inspectors; (2) the administration of the Bovine Tuberculosis Order of 1926; and (3) the enforcement of sheep dipping regulations.
I should perhaps make it clear that the Bovine Tuberculosis Order of 1926 is not connected with the general bovine tuberculosis eradication scheme. This order deals with clinical or open cases of tuberculosis. The local authority veterinary inspector visits, inspects and arranges for slaughter in such cases (which are relatively small in number) but the compensation which is now at the full market value is recouped from the Exchequer. With the development of the bovine tuberculosis eradication scheme generally the need for this Order will diminish in due course.
Local authorities contribute to the fund by means of a halfpenny in the £ on the rates assessed from time to time. They receive from the fund one-half of their expenses—that is a total of about £25,000 at present—for disease control functions, and they pay the other £25,000 directly from their own resources. I have indicated what these functions are and it will be apparent that the nature and volume of the work and the expenses incurred will be relatively the same in all counties. The position has been for a number of years that most local authorities received from the fund about the same amount as they contributed to it. The fund was thus serving no effective purpose and a complicated and rather expensive process of collecting money from local authorities and paying it back to them was being kept up unnecessarily.
The Bill provides that after the 31st March, 1961, local authorities will meet all their expenses for disease control directly from the rates. As I have already indicated these expenses total about £50,000 annually which is a negligible proportion of total local authority revenue expenditure. The change will mean no additional charge on local authorities as a whole.
The Fund is now almost exhausted and provision is made for further contributions to enable outstanding claims to be paid. While provision is made for an overall assessment of 4d. in the £, in fact it is expected that no more than 2d. in the £ will be necessary. The Fund is being kept open until the 31st March, 1963, so that the outstanding claims and the claims arising up to the 1st April, 1961, can be met. Any balance on the 31st March, 1963 will be paid to the Exchequer but the last assessment necessary can be fairly closely estimated and so the amount left in the Fund will be very small. Fines for offences under the Diseases of Animals Acts which were hitherto paid into the Fund will also be paid directly into the Exchequer from that date. These fines have represented only an insignificant part of the income of the Fund. To sum up this part of the Bill, I may say it is no more than a change in accountancy procedure made in the interests of simplicity and economy of administration.
The second main provision in the Bill substitutes the word "attested" for the word "accredited" in our Bovine Tuberculosis Eradication Scheme. What we describe as "accredited cattle" under our legislation are called "attested cattle" under the British Regulations. I have had strong representations both from farmers' representatives and trade interests to adopt the description which has long been used in Britain. It has been represented to me that describing Irish cattle as "accredited" instead of "attested" would have an adverse effect on their sale in Britain since British buyers may wonder whether the difference in description connotes some difference also in status. In fact, of course, there is no such difference and in view of the representations I received and because of the necessity to ensure that no obstacle is placed in the way of our cattle export trade I thought it well that we should adopt the word "attested."
When the Diseases of Animals (Bovine Tuberculosis) Bill was before this House in 1957 Senators discussed the relative merits of the words "accredited" and "attested" and it was indicated at the time that the change would be made at a later stage if circumstances justified it. I feel that that time has now come.