In submitting this Bill to the Seanad there are three points I would like to make clear at the outset:
(1) that the Bill is necessary in the national interest and not least in the interest of the farming community: It has been introduced for no other reason;
(2) that the powers provided for in the Bill in relation to livestock marts are comparable with those already granted by the Oireachtas in many enactments passed since the 1920s in relation to other sectors of the agricultural industry;
(3) that the Bill will be operated with reason and commonsense and to the benefit of the agricultural industry and the community in general.
Some people may well say that this Bill is long overdue and should have been introduced when it became clear that the livestock marts would very largely supplant the traditional fairs. Indeed, there was at one time a request from farmer representatives for Government regulation of marts. Today, there are well established and, indeed, well run marts in many areas and in these areas they have to a greater or lesser extent supplanted fairs so that, so far as the buying and selling of livestock is concerned, a virtual monopoly has been created— not, of course, deliberately butde facto. It is important, therefore, that the rights possessed by buyers and sellers in the days when the fair was the most important type of market should be legally maintained under the new system. The representatives of the marts, both privately-owned and co-operative, will, I believe, accept that their special position carries with it concomitant obligations. There is nothing really new in recognising such obligations. In the case of existing fairs there are, by reason of the charters under which they were set up or the statutes under which they are controlled quite definite and specific obligations as regards the days on which they may be held and for classes of livestock which might be sold.
As regards the right of the public to have full access to fairs or markets, we have a major point of difference between marts as they stand in this country today and fairs and markets; since marts are privately owned, the owners may, if they wish, deny access to the public or any special members of the public. It is obviously desirable that the right of free access to the marts by allbona fide dealers should be established in our legislative code.
The Bill now before the House was amended in several respects in the Dáil on my proposal, following discussions I had with the National Agricultural Council and with representatives of both the co-operative and proprietary marts. As the House knows, the Bill provides for the licensing of marts and requires that licences conform to any conditions attached to the licences and to regulations made under section 6. The amendments made in the Dáil, however, provide among other things the right of an inquiry when revocation of a licence is proposed on certain grounds and the holding of an inquiry by a barrister of at least ten years standing and also require me to put before each House of the Oireachtas a statement of the reasons for the revocation of a licence. I have also undertaken to consult the National Agricultural Council and the representatives of the Marts when the regulations under section 6 are being drafted. Any such regulation will be of a reasonable and practical nature and their only purpose will be to ensure the marts will be operated in the most satisfactory way possible. All existing marts will, of course, be granted licences.
I have no intention to control occasional auction sales, such as dispersal sales or sales at agricultural shows nor, indeed, any auction of livestock which is not part of the business of a livestock mart and which is not set up in order to evade the law. The Bill makes suitable provision as regards exemptions.
There have been suggestions from a number of quarters that the licensing of marts should not be vested in the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries but should be left to the district courts, and in support of this suggestion an analogy has been drawn between the system of granting of licences by the Minister proposed under this Bill and the licences for dance-halls, public houses, etc. which have to be applied for to the district courts. As I see it, the basic considerations are not the same. Public health and public morals are involved in the decisions as regards licences for which application has to be made to the district courts. The Legislature has seen fit to give jurisdiction in these matters to local courts who, to help them in arriving at decisions, have the benefit of the advice of the Garda and any local interested party who may wish to give evidence.
I would suggest to An Seanad that licences for livestock marts involve considerations of a different order and that the considerations can best be applied by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries who has as his responsibility the welfare of agriculture, including the livestock industry. One would imagine from much that has been said about this Bill that the Legislature had never up to now given to a Minister of State the power to grant or revoke licences in spheres of action where the Minister has a direct concern and responsibility.
Control by the Minister concerned of matters similar to those covered by this Bill are and have been a feature of our legislation for decades. The type of control which I am looking for in this Bill is no new type of control. Ministers for Agriculture have already for many years had similar powers in, for instance, the dairying industry, the bacon curing industry, the fresh meat export industry, and other aspects of the agricultural industry. Other Ministers have similar powers. I might quote, for example, the power given to more than one Minister to grant or refuse export or import licences or the appelate function of the Minister for Local Government under the Planning and Development Act, 1963.
In my experience these powers have been used reasonably with, indeed, a tendency to favour the person affected rather than to deal harshly with him. I see no reason why the position should be any different under this Bill.
Finally, may I mention a point which so far as I know has not been referred to previously in the course of the rather protracted talking about this Bill? Some eight years ago when marts were still fighting to establish themselves there was a vigorous move by certain interests in the cattle trade who sought to impose a ban on the sale at Dublin Cattle Market or the shipping through Dublin Port of cattle which had passed through marts.
I am happy to say that the Minister for Agriculture of the day was determined to see that the decision to sell their livestock through marts or otherwise would be left to the free choice of the people concerned and that cattle bought at a mart would be at no disadvantage as regards subsequent sale or shipping by comparison with cattle bought elsewhere. The Minister, therefore, made an order which made it illegal except under licence from him to ship cattle through the port of Dublin and it was a condition of the licences issued that there would not be discrimination against cattle bought through marts. The ministerial intervention and the good sense of those involved made it unnecessary after a period to continue the control. This was a temporary control to meet an emergency but I feel that it is right that I refer to it now when it is being said that the present Bill is being brought in because of vindictiveness against marts. I am satisfied that its provisions will be for the benefit of farmers and all who deal in livestock.