In this Bill we are dealing with those recommendations of the survey team on the horse breeding industry that relate to the setting up of a horse board; the licensing of horse riding establishments; the provision of national training centres and the miscellaneous problems associated with improving the Irish horse industry both at home and abroad. The Bill does not involve the thoroughbred industry but it is of particular concern to farmers who breed non-thoroughbred horses.
In present day circumstances the best market is for the pleasure horse— the hunter, the showjumper, the three-day-eventer, the riding pony. This country is very favourably circumstanced to produce such horses. My Department is encouraging farmers, through nominations and foaling premiums, to keep brood mares of the right kind and to breed from them. It is also supplementing the efforts of stallion owners by locating Irish draught and thoroughbred stallions in areas where there is need for them. In addition it subsidises the Connemara Pony Breeders' Society in their work of fostering our native breed of ponies. All these are efforts to expand production of horses of the right kinds and since the number of nominations awarded in 1970—over 6,000—was more than double the number awarded three years ago we may hope that we are succeeding.
Production is of course only half the story. The other half concerns everything that needs to be done to promote the Irish horse. This is where the horse board comes in.
The survey team drew up a list of functions for the board which are reflected in section 7 of the Bill. It will be seen that they are very far ranging and amount in fact, when coupled with my Department's horse breeding schemes, to a programme of development for the non-thoroughbred horse industry of this country. Not only will the board co-ordinate activities and run a national training centre but it will help national teams to compete at equestrian events, will see to the training of riding instructors, do publicity on horses, help the trade in non-thoroughbred horses in various ways and provide for an apprenticeship scheme in farriery. In addition to these executive functions the board will act as my advisers on horse breeding generally. Moreover, provision is made for giving the Board extra functions if experience shows that this is desirable.
There are two functions which I want to dwell on. Of the board's executive functions I think it fair to say that none will be more important than the establishment and running of a national training centre. It is my hope and conviction that this will become the focus for progress in horse riding. As a sport, as a means of publicising our horses, and even as a matter of national prestige, horsemanship is something we do well to foster. We should not feel aggrieved if we do not always dominate international jumping events. What we should aim at is to enable the talent we have in horses and riders to find full development. Many wonderful successes have been achieved in the past by both our Army and civilian riders and I am confident that the national training centre will be the means by which we can be sure of maintaining the traditions and standards that have been handed down.
The second function is that which will make the board my advisers on horse breeding. It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of sound advice on this subject. Many people have strong and divergent views on it and I will look to the board for co-ordinated recommendations which will not merely be right but will be accepted as right by breeders. Change, where change is needed, can only come about slowly given the span of years it takes to produce a mature horse and so continuity of advice and advisers will be vital.
It will be evident that the board will have a very onerous job to do. Only men with outstanding qualities could hope to do it. Sections 8 and 9 of the Bill deal with the appointment of members and of the chairman. The board is to have not more than eleven members; they will be appointed by me and where appropriate I shall be consulting the horse organisations about the selection of people to serve on it. Some interests may not necessarily be represented by any organisation but I would propose that all interested parties should have a voice on the board. As it is important not to make the board unwieldy I have come to the conclusion that a maximum of 11 members is a fair assessment of the size needed for the board.
Much of the rest of Part II is made up of routine provisions necessary for a statutory body. The board will be a body corporate, it will have a seal, and members must disclose any interest they have in proposed contracts. The procedure at meetings of the board is detailed in section 12; it must furnish audited accounts and an annual report and it may employ staff who may be delegated to carry out its functions. Other powers of the board related to acquiring premises, buying and selling horses, borrowing, the making of grants or loans, investment of funds, acquisition and disposal of land and the acceptance of gifts.
I would draw particular attention to section 25 of the Bill. This enables the board to appoint such committees as it thinks fit to help it in executing its functions and these committees may include persons who are not members of the board itself. This is in line with a recommendation by the survey team. Allied to this is a recommendation by the team that the board should itself have an advisory consultative council. Since most of the value to be derived from outside opinion could be available to the board through its committees and since the addition of a consultative council would tend towards undue complexity of structure, it has been decided not to provide for a consultative council.
I come now to Part 3 of the Bill, which deals with the licensing of horse riding establishments. The board will have the function of advising on the conditions to be attached to licences.
A licence will be required under section 28 for any establishment as defined at section 27. In order to avoid disruption of operations various periods of grace are allowed under section 28 to existing operators and to those who buy establishments and to the personal representatives of deceased licensees.
Section 29 outlines the objectives against which applications for licensing will be assessed. Broadly speaking they may be summed up as concerning the welfare of the horses and the safety of the riders. The section also outlines the procedure to be followed when licences are refused or revoked. Powers of inspection are provided for at section 30. Section 31 deals with miscellaneous offences which again are concerned with the welfare of horses and the safety of riders.
Section 26 gives power to exempt particular classes of business from licensing. Experience may show that it is unnecessary to control small-scale operators on the one hand or on the other operators engaged solely in hiring out hunters. I have no views on these subjects at present but it seems wiser to allow for the possibility of exemption.
Part III will not come into operation automatically. An order under section 34 will be necessary for the purpose. I shall seek the advice of the board on when to make this order.
I commend this Bill to the House. In doing so I should like to pay tribute to that body of men who as the survey team on the horse breeding industry produced the report on which the Bill is based.