Agriculture (An Comhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta) Bill, 1986: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

When we reported progress when last we were discussing this Bill, I said how important the advisory and education services are to the agriculture industry. We have a long way to go to compete with our EC partners. Some of our EC partners produce four or five times as much milk per hectare as we do in Ireland. The average income of our farming community is the lowest in Europe. It is most important that whatever money these charges accumulate be put back into education and the advisory services. People do not like to be charged, but with the present financial constraints it is impossible not to do so. There is a danger — and I see from the Minister's opening address that it was expressed in the Dáil — that these charges might make it prohibitive for farmers who could not afford the advisory services to avail of them.

The Minister stated that there will be full consultation between the Department and ACOT, prior to the introduction of any charges, on the level and the criteria to be used in the formulation of charges and that the Minister's approval is ultimately necessary for the making of charges. The Bill provides adequate safeguards and the overall interest of the agricultural sector will be fully taken into account when the fees which ACOT may charge are being determined. It is very important that farmers' circumstances be taken into account. I know some farmers will be in a position to pay and they should pay, but there are farmers who, although very anxious to avail of the services, may not be able to afford them. This should be taken into consideration and I have no doubt the Minister will take it into account. I welcome the Bill and hope it will improve our farming position and improve the advisory services and educational facilities for farmers, especially young farmers. This is all very important for the future of the farming industry.

I should like to open my remarks by stating that the Bill is very vague on the amount to be collected in charges for agricultural advice. I assume this year the amount to be collected will be £1 million because a provision has been made in the Government's budget to raise £1 million in charges from this sector. No indication is given in the budget or in the Bill of how this £1 million is to be collected.

The Bill, when it becomes law, will give ACOT the right to charge for services or advice to farmers. The Government, through the Department of Agriculture, will decide on how the money is to be raised, and "how" is the crucial word here. There are grave dangers in the methods of implementation. Apart from training and education, ACOT spent £13.38 million on advisory work. The main areas of advisory work include the category one service to the middle band of farmers, the campaigns, scheme work, responding to farmers' requests for advice and services, farm business and service groups and activities. The State spends almost £13.38 million on this development work.

ACOT will now be asked to earn £1 million from farmer requests for advice and services and will, therefore, get £12.38 million from the Government for development work. In my opinion the amount of time ACOT spend on development work should reflect the contribution from the Government for this work. The Government in return for the money spent on development work want, as stated in their programme, more suckling cows, more ewes, more forestry, a better environment, fewer farmers depending on the State, the servicing of Government schemes and the production of quality products.

What do farmers want? From my knowledge of working and mixing with farmers I believe farmers would prefer one agency or one person to advise on the range of problems facing them rather than a multiplicity of advice from different centres. The modern farmer wants advice on subjects, ranging from insurance, taxation, farm accounts, advice on transfers of property to will settlements, etc. Therefore, the traditional role of the adviser advising on animal and crop husbandry, manure, lime, sprays, grassland management etc., is changing because we now have better educated farmers and that type of advice is available in the co-ops and even in the local creamery store.

How will the £1 million be raised? Will each region be asked or expected to bring in apro rata income? If that happens it will put extreme pressure on areas such as the west. If £13.38 million was allotted for the advisory service in the agricultural budget £12.38 million will come from the agricultural grant and £1 million from farm charges. If each region has to raise a certain amount, the pressure will be on the adviser to collect that amount. In other words, he may have to devote a lot of his time and energy to meeting his target — within the paying sector of farmers, whoever they may be when the Bill becomes law. Or will the adviser have discretion in the matter? Will he have discretion to use his incentive to charge what he considers a reasonable amount for a visit or advice? These matters are crucial to the proper working of the scheme for the benefit of all farmers and the agricultural industry.

I believe that relatively more of the ACOT advisory budget is spent on the grants scheme and development work generally in the west, the less favoured areas, than in the east or south. Charging for services will result in a limited number of high income farmers benefiting most from the ACOT services. They will benefit from the £12.38 million provided by the taxpayers while contributing only £1 million which, in turn, in the case of those type of farmers, can be claimed back as an expense for tax purposes, probably reducing the real income from what is planned to about £.65 million. That is another crucial point which has been overlooked in the Bill. The £12.38 million must continue to be spent on development work, the benefit of which accrues to society at large as well as to a broad spectrum of individual farmers. This benefit takes the form of increased exports and increased activities in other sectors of the economy.

The following or similar criteria should be used when setting income targets for charging for services in the district, county, or region, or whatever way it is broken down. There are 28,000 farmers above the £10,000 annual income level and about one quarter of those are in the 12 western or under-developed areas. Roughly half the country's farmers are in that region, but only one quarter, approximately 7,000, have an income of over £10,000 annually. It should also be broken down into the number of farmers with a milk quota or number threshhold, for example, a 25,000 gallon quota, or 30 dairy cows, or above 50 livestock units of dry stock.

The relative demands by the Government work and ACOT work in response to farmer requests for advice and services in the district county or region should also be taken into account when breaking down the figure of £12.38 million. Adequate statistics are available in global form to estimate the numbers involved and the costs can be apportioned between the development work and responding to farmer requests for advice and services, whether it be in the district, country or region. Income targets from charges can, therefore, be arrived at globally. Procedures for charging for services can then be implemented flexibly without having to assess individual farmer's incomes or go through the complicated procedure of counting stock, etc.

It is very important that there should be flexibility on how the targets should be met. The Bill should exempt some categories of farmers from these charges to ensure that they will continue to receive proper advice, especially in the west where farms are run on a family farm basis.

ACOT were set up in 1979 and came into operation in 1980. Prior to that the county committees of agriculture and the General Council of the County Councils of Agriculture, both bodies on which I had the privilege to serve, were responsible for the provision of services to farmers. There is no doubt that State spending on agriculture is costly — a total budget of about £28 million, excluding education. A remarkable statistic is the cost of the Department's involvement in research and advice.

According to the comprehensive public expenditure programme, a total of 223 of the staff of the Department of Agriculture are engaged on duties directly attributable to this State programme. The total cost in the 1986 Estimate was £3.49 million in pay and £447,000 in non-pay elements. In recent years in some areas of the Department of Agriculture, the expenditure on staffing was not reduced when work loads were reduced. The crucial question is: why there should be over 220 staff in the Department soley administering advice, research and education? It is like the current cutbacks in health boards. All the cuts seem to be at the nursing and hospital level with little cutback at administrative level. Surely, when the State set up ACOT and the Agricultural Institute to provide research and advice, they should be the only administrators of these services within certain budgets. Why have we the ridiculous situation of administrators administrating the administrators? This adds considerably to the cost and uses a great deal more than the £1 million, or in real terms after tax savings, the £0.65 million proposed to be raised in charges.

This year ACOT and the Agricultural Institute have suffered major financial cutbacks. There is no evidence available that the administrative section has suffered the same cutbacks or any cutbacks. In fact, the opposite may be the case, as the revised Estimate for the Public Service forecasts a 5 per cent increase in 1987 for Department of Agricultural salaries, wages, and allowances. Another major cause of alarm is the cutback in the agricultural education grant. A young farmer now attending an agricultural college pays a fee of between £700 and £1,200 for a one year course while his or her counterpart attending an AnCO training course pays no fee at all. This may have serious repercussions for farmers in the future as any boy or girl entering farming, and born after 1 January 1968 will have to have a certificate in farming to qualify for a farm grants scheme. In other words, agricultural education is a compulsory matter.

In conclusion I ask the Minister, before he decides on how he will raise the £1 million, to have a serious look at the administrative side of this budget to see where savings can be made.

I welcome my constituency colleague, Deputy Kirk, and wish him well in his new portfolio as Minister with responsibility for horticulture. The Minister has clearly identified an area of import substitution in which this country can produce and export produce to Europe. Horticulture is perfectly suited to the Irish soil and climate and played a more important role in the past supplying our needs than it does today. There is natural public resentment at having to rely so much for a great part of the year on imported apples, potatoes, celery and so on. I am confident that Irish consumers would like to see much greater self sufficiency and would buy Irish without hesitation providing that the quality was good.

This Bill is virtually identical to the Bill introduced by the previous Administration. I do not think anybody is anxious to see provision being made for the imposition of new charges. Nevertheless, there is almost general agreement that those who benefit directly from a valuable but costly service should be expected to make a contribution towards paying for that service. Undoubtedly the provision and maintenance of a nationwide on-farm service, staffed by highly trained professionals, is expensive. I understand that ACOT's budget is now approximately £28 million, 80 per cent of which is acquired from public funds. As the Minister mentioned, ACOT provide agricultural services to around 70,000 farmers. Therefore, it is obvious that there is a growing awareness on the part of farmers of the value of professional advice in planning and developing their enterprises. This trend must be encouraged. The Minister has already indicated that charges for ACOT services will be reasonable. I am convinced that these will not deter the progressive farmer from seeking ACOT advice when required.

I also welcome the Minister's assurance that there will be full consultation between his Department and ACOT prior to the introduction of any charges and that account will be taken of the position of farmers who have a low income or who are in financial difficulty. I understand that the Bill will include a complete update of the ACOT advisory service. This is necessary because farming is our primary industry and the whole structure of our economy is dependent on its growth and development. I have every confidence in the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy, and his Ministers of State giving the necessary leadership to continue and develop the agricultural industry which is so vitally important to Ireland. I commend the Bill to the House.

I will be brief in my comments on this Bill. Enough has been said about the state of agriculture over the past two days. When the Bill was being discussed and the state of the nation I wondered whether I was looking at the same Bill as other Senators. Last week the Minister kept his comments to a minimum. Judging by the length of the Bill, it is not too meaty.

Farmers are worried about the enactment of this Bill because they see minimum charges being imposed to collect £1 million. Like all levies on any sector of the community, people who are being asked to pay always wonder what increase will come next.

For far too long ACOT instructors were under utilised because farmers did not take too kindly to some of the advice being offered. They saw many of the instructors as academic farmers who knew very little about practical farming and were unwilling to take much of their advice seriously. We are fortunate that their attitude changed significantly over the past decade in particular. As a result our agricultural production increased significantly and more important, it increased in the areas in which it was needed most, in the smaller farms, farms in the more disadvantaged areas and in other areas where up to now agricultural production was at a minimum. Undoubtedly, the increase in production was due to the work of the ACOT instructors who got their act together very well, and made it clear to the farmers that they knew what they were speaking about. They spoke the language of the farmers and organised various courses. Far from being seen as in any way elitist or academic, they became the friend of the farmer and accordingly were utilised very much, or at least more than they had been down through the years.

Following completion of all that good work we have a Bill before us today — admittedly with an amount of money being invested in ACOT — asking farmers to contribute £1 million. This may not be too great a demand on them. However, we worry about where that £1 million will come from and the fact that it may prevent some people from availing of ACOT services. If that happens it will be regrettable because, undoubtedly, those who stop using the service will be those who need it most, those whose level of production at the moment does not allow them a sufficient income from farming. The only way to increase their income is to increase production on their farm and increase the number of farming options available to them. You can only do that by giving them advice.

I hope this Bill will not end up in a vicious circle, stopping people paying for the service, decreasing their income, and not giving the good advice which is so necessary for them. Discretion is allowed under the Bill and it will be up to the ACOT officials to decide where and what level of charges to impose. Many of the more specialised farmers have actually moved away from ACOT into the area of special advisers in agencies which were set up by people who saw their opportunity. The ordinary ACOT advisers should be down to earth and available to ordinary people. A certain percentage of farmers have become so advanced that they see very little benefit to be gained from the ordinary advice being offered by ACOT and they have taken advantage of what is called the commercial advice which is available at present. As a consequence, people who can best afford to pay for ACOT services under the new Bill, who are obviously the better off and the more developed farmers, will not stay with ACOT. Many of them have moved into the area of commercial advisers. I hope this Bill will not stop the remainder of the big farmers availing of the ACOT service. If that happens, the smaller farmers and the middle income group farmers will be left to pay the bill for ACOT services and that would be regrettable.

I am a member of the Cork County Committee of Agriculture. The powers of the committees of agriculture have more or less disappeared over the past seven or eight years. For example, ten years ago the budget of the Cork County Committee of Agriculture was £500,000. Last year it was down to about £50,000. Our powers are at a very minimal level. The budget is so strict that members attending meetings do not get travelling expenses. It is a credit to the members that they are still attending in great numbers and it shows their commitment to agriculture. The committees of agriculture discuss agriculture on a very down to earth, local basis. I do not intend to be critical of the Department's officials — two of whom are here — but in the Department of Agriculture we need a down to earth level of involvement. The committees of agriculture provide the necessary level of involvement and on numerous occasions we have spoken about this Bill.

The Bill was first proposed by the Coalition Government. At that stage the committees of agriculture were concerned not so about the fact that £1 million was being sought — because you cannot put up much of an argument about that — but who it would come from and what the £1 million would become next year and the year after. Now the roles are reversed. A new Government have been elected and I am glad to say that our committee of agriculture have not changed their mind or their concern about the Bill. At our second last meeting, five weeks ago, another motion was passed and sent to the Department expressing concern and asking for the scheme to be withdrawn, which I presume it will not be. I read in the Minister's speech last year that the cost of the ACOT services is £28 million per annum. In any figure of that size there must be room for saving. I admit that the £28 million provides a great return to the economy. If every £28 million invested in every industry brought the same return as this £28 million invested in agriculture, training and advice, there would be no need for any of the cutbacks that are taking place today.

As a person who availed of some ACOT services, namely, the educational courses and the green certificate in farming, I have some practical knowledge of the type of service being offered by ACOT to farmers today. I admit that the service is top class. Young farmers in particular over the past couple of months have been struck a few severe blows by, for example, the removal of the installation aid. Installaion aid this year cost a minimal amount of money. I think it was £500,000. I know that each year that amount of money would have increased and would have become a substantial figure over the next couple of years. The scheme was an investment in the future. Certain funds were available from the EC and the Government had to match them pound for pound. That caused problems for the Department of Finance in present circumstances. I would like to put on record my disappointment at the removal of this scheme. Those hit by its removal are young farmers. They will also be hit by the charges being levied by ACOT because young farmers are far more inclined to take the advice of ACOT. The number of farm visits to young farmers was much greater than the number of farm visits to their parents down through the years.

During the debate last week some Senators asked if this Bill applied only to people in the non-disadvantaged areas. Once again they were making their plea for the poor farmers of the disadvantaged areas. Five or six years ago if farmers in my county were told they were to be classified as qualifying for a disadvantaged areas scheme they would have considered it an insult. It is seen now by the general body of farmers that the disadvantaged areas scheme allowed major benefits to flow to the farmers within those areas. There is much clamouring left, right and centre from farmers to join the disadvantaged areas scheme. There are many applications before the Government at present and very little appears to be happening about them.

I hope the provisions of this Bill, if implemented, will not differeniate between the advantaged and disadvantaged areas. So far as I can see the disadvantaged area farmers have the major advantages because of the various grants available. Those who are outside the scheme are facing the greater difficulties. If, or indeed when, the scheme is introduced the Minister should ensure that it applies both to the disadvantaged and advantaged areas in order that they will not be split further apart.

There is, unfortunately, still within Irish agriculture a two tiered system. I am not speaking about the advantaged and disadvantaged areas but about the big farmer and the middle and the small income group farmer who can be classified together. Farming organisations are far removed from the body of opinion expressed by small and medium sized farmers. The land tax issue was a classic example. When you have to canvass for any election you get a very good idea of what the majority of people are thinking. The majority of farmers, as far as I could see, were than willing to pay and, indeed, were hopeful that the land tax would come in. If you were to judge by the comments of the farming organisations you would get the impression that 90 per cent of the farmers were totally against it. I am deviating now from the ACOT Bill.

I hope we will not see the bigger farmers removing themselves from the ACOT service and leaving the smaller farmers and the medium income groups farmers with ACOT. ACOT might react by trying to offer more specialised services which would remove the ordinary ACOT services from the people who need them most — the medium and the small sized farmers. If ACOT try to react too much to those who are questioning the value of their services and the need for many of the educational courses which are becoming available, and if ACOT try to provide the type of consultancy services available, there is a grave danger that they will move away from the ordinary down to earth approach of the vast majority of our farmers.

I hope the Bill will bring farming people to their senses and let them see that everything is not free and everything cannot be provided free. Agriculture has been hit strongly over the past ten or 12 years by people who say farmers will pay for nothing. Any proposal which may take money from a farmer, or any levy, will be opposed most vehemently and any excuse will be found for resisting every proposal. Some people will say our concern about the Bill is more of the same and more of the syndrome of farmers not being willing to pay for anything. In fairness, that is not true. There have been very few references to the doubling of the disease levy charges which occurred in recent months. It is rarely referred to in the newspapers. Neither do we hear about the levies on milk, the co-op levies, the EC levies which farmers have to pay. I often wonder about communications between the farming organisations. It is a pity to see such divisiveness in society at present. It is up to each farmer to state his case better and to show that he is paying for the services he is availing of.

The Bill will contribute in some way to the cost of the available services. While farmers will not be grievously hurt by having to pay the £1 million, they will not be too happy about it because their concern will be for increases in charges in the years ahead. A subsection states that the Minister may vary as from such date the charges which will be levied. That is what everybody is worried about. We do not expect the charges to vary downwards. It is only natural that they will increase as the cost of the service increases.

In conclusion, while the service is relatively costly, it is very good value for money and it has served farmers well over the past number of years. Accordingly it has served the economy very well. I do not want to say I am opposed to the Bill because I have to admit it was my party who introduced it. We are supporting it although some Government members are concerned about what will happen in the future. As a result of the Bill, I hope farmers, instead of running away from charges and services, will see the possibility of making a service they pay for more relevant to themselves and use it more. If they see the £1 million which they are putting into the ACOT services as an investment in the future of ACOT and an investment in their own future, it will be well worthwhile. The benefits in the Bill will, I hope, accrue to the farming population in general and to the economy over the next few years.

At the outset I should like to avail of this opportunity to extend my good wishes to the Minister. Deputy Kirk, in his new post. It is the first time I have had an opportunity to address him in this Chamber.

I do not propose to say much on the Bill other than that I am supporting it. It is a recognition of the need for farmers as a unit in society to pay their share. Every sector of society must contribute to the general well being of the country and the well being of their own industry. We hope this Bill will provide a worthy ACOT service for farmers. The kind of generallaissez-faire attitude which existed in agricultural advisory services over the past ten or 15 years was no help to the industry. The Minister intends to levy a charge for these services. People in the industry will be aware that when they decide to avail of the services of an adviser or, indeed, to avail of the advisory services generally, they will have to pay for them. They will treat the service in a serious way.

The Minister indicated that they will be reciprocating in the sense that the quality of the service will be as good if not better than that afforded to farmers in the past. This is important because obviously there has to be a little give and take. If farmers are expected to pay they will expect the quality of the service to reflect the type of financial input they have made. We are aware, of course, that the contributions will not pay for the service.

Like health charges, or anything else, once people have to pay they expect the service they are paying for to be worthy of the industry in which they are involved. That assurance given here today by the Minister is important.

Senator Bradford made a few valid points on the public perception of the importance of farmers' contributions to any service in the future. For too long there has been a feeling abroad, particularly among urban dwellers, that farmers would not subscribe and objected vehemently to subscribing to any service of which they were availing. There was some degree of validity in that observation in the past. This is an indication here today that farmers will be paying for some of the services and this will offset to some degree the comments made by certain prominent trade unionists and others that farmers are not prepared to pay. I represent a reasonably large agricultural constituency and I am not aware of anybody in the farming community who is vehemently opposed to the levying of these charges as long as they remain reasonable.

The kind of charges currently being framed would not fall into the unreasonable category. It is an indication by farmers that they are prepared to pay their fair share. Once the service is up and running and the charges levied, it will contribute to redressing this imbalance and divide that appears to be developing in urban and rural communities. If that rift were allowed to continue it would be tragic, because there are very few people living in the urban areas who are generations off the land. It is unfair and unwise of many media and public commentators generally to continue to contribute to the widening of this chasm that appears to exist between urban and rural communities at present. Farmers do not object to paying their fair share irrespective of whether it is taxation or the levying of charges. This Bill will go a long way, at least as an intermediate step, towards ensuring that farmers will in future be paying for these services.

The importance of the service to the farmers cannot be highlighted enough. During the election campaign practically all the major parties highlighted the need to upgrade the agricultural industry. They tried to make it a little leaner and in better fighting shape to take on the kind of confrontation we are encountering from the Danes and the Dutch and other competing agricultural nations in the EC markets. The only way we can do that is to have an advisory service worthy of the industry. I accept entirely the Minister's commitments here today that that service will be of a quality that will, if availed of, bring farmers into the kind of conditions that would make them viable into the next century. That is basically what this service is all about.

In conclusion, I would like to say that, once the service is up and running I believe there will not be any great resistance from farmers. They are concerned because it is a service they did not have to pay for in the past. For anybody who has to fork up for something he had free in the past, it is a little painful in the beginning. I accept that. Generally, farmers who are serious about their business are prepared to pay. The assurances given by the Minister in relation to the level of the charges and the fact that he is prepared to consider having escape clauses for people who are pleading inability to pay and so on are welcome. I would in a general way welcome the Bill.

This is a Bill which was introduced in the term of the last Government and is being followed on by the present Government. I have listened with interest to the debate both here and in the other House. I wish I could share the optimism that has been running generally through the debate because I do not feel it will be the success that many speakers on both sides of the political scene have indicated. Some Senators on this side of the House might feel that, since it was introduced by our Government, they would have to support it. Even when it was introduced by the Government, which I wholeheartedly supported during the last term, I was not enthusiastic about it because, quite honestly, I would like to put on the record of this House that I would forecast it as a failure. I believe it will fail. Agriculture has been referred to down the years, during my lifetime and long beforehand, as the backbone of the nation, our principal industry, one to which we should have paid greater attention in the past. There were lost opportunities because we had not brought into farming the technology that was becoming available in our lifetime.

The services of the county committees of agriculture throughout the country have been underrated in many respects. Some people may say they have been abused; but, no matter what service is available, naturally you will have some abuse. But I believe they have adequately and superbly paid for the efforts, time and money put into them over the years. This will bring a fundamental change in our chief industry. Our advisers will be put in a new role. They will now be seen as tax collectors; and, no matter what you call the charge, it will still be seen by the farmer as an additional tax he has to pay. My fear is that fewer farmers will avail of the service in the future, and I believe that in the long run we will lose millions of pounds instead of gathering in £1 million from the farmers.

The Minister said that it was costing £28 million for the total service — £23 million from both central and local Government, the other £5 million, so far as I know, coming from the EC grants. The service was provided for 70,000 farmers, 29,000 of them according to the Minister — and I am sure the Minister is correct — with an intensive service and with almost 170,000 farm visits at a cost of £7 million. We are talking about the expenditure of £7 million on the service of our main industry and we are asking that £1 million of that £7 million be recouped. If this were to happen in industry there would be an outcry. It is happening in the farming industry and it has been tossed around for so long that people may be inclined to slide over it. But I would like to put on the record of this House my forecast that, whatever Government bring it in, we will in the future regret it. My reason for saying that is that we will not save £1 million; we will lose far more money, because many farmers particularly at this time, are finding that to stay in business, to educate their children, to provide for their families they must diversify.

I am not too worried about the 29,000 farmers. I am not too clear whether the 170,000 farm visits were to the 29,000 farmers or to the 70,000 farmers. I do not think it was too clear from what the Minister said; at least, it was not too clear in the way I read it. That is only a minor matter.

I would like to have seen the Minister go further and categorise the 41,000 farmers who are using the service because the 29,000 can obtain a service anyway in the commercial area. They do not have to come to ACOT. Very many of them may turn to the commercial area where there is ample advice available, for payment, of course. Many of the 29,000 farmers may feel that they may get a better service outside of ACOT. No doubt they will have a look at it depending on what the charge will be. There has been absolutely no indication from the Minister as to what the charge might be.

My concern is about the 41,000 farmers that the Minister did not categorise and did not give us any details about and, indeed, maybe many other farmers who are not mentioned in the Minister's figures at all. Because of the times we are living in, with butter mountains, milk lakes and radiation of vegetables and the supermarkets one does not know in farming, what direction one must take next.

Many farmers have now to diversify. This is a time when they will need advice and the services of ACOT. Indeed, many farmers who never availed of it before will need it now and we are going to charge them at the very worst time in their whole operation, when they find that they must diversify because the income is not coming from the farming they have been used to doing. Now they must turn their attention to maybe a half acre or an acre of cabbage or carrots to supplement an income from a dairy farm or a sheep farm.

Perhaps I have mentioned the wrong one there. The forecast is that sheep farming is the up and coming thing and they are all advised to keep sheep. All right, we are now advising farmers that sheep is the business to be in. If a farmer who has been operating outside the sheep area over the years now finds that to educate his children he must have a look at the rearing and fattening of sheep and he knows nothing about it, he will then need the advice of the ACOT services or some other body. While he or his father, who operated that land beforehand, could have had this service free of charge, we are now asking that man to pay for the service at a time when he is finding the going rough.

This will bring about the most fundamental change in farming in our time. I wonder if the idea of charging has been gone into sufficiently or have we looked at the effect it has had in other areas. Take the other portion of our island, for instance. Northern Ireland. ADAS have suggested a charge which has come into operation in Great Britain but it has not yet come into operation in Northern Ireland. In a recent survey there, it was found that 16 per cent of the farmers who are now availing of the service will, if charges come into operation, avail of it.

This is a frightening figure. We are dealing with the same land. Whatever comparison can be made with the Continent — Germany or France, for example, about which there were comparisons made in the other House — I believe the greatest comparison is on our own island, where we have it in Northern Ireland. A survey which was carried out indicates that no more than 16 per cent of those availing of the service today will avail of it if the charges that are now in operation in Great Britain come into operation in Northern Ireland. The Minister should take a very strong look at that survey to see if he can make a comparison with that and, indeed, many parts of this country.

I do not know what the charge will be. I hear certain figures being tossed around, a charge of £50 per annum for perhaps a package deal rather than a charge for every time the service is requested. Has the Minister or, indeed, his predecessor, looked at what it would cost ACOT to implement the charge? How will it be operated? I assume it will be left to the individual areas to operate it as they see fit. But if one area operates it on a charge per phone call, or charge per visit, what will be the cost of that? Who will collect it? Are we not then putting our advisers as pointsmen out in the field.

The more sensible approach to it would be a charge for a package deal but then you also have difficulties if you do it that way. If there is a package deal and you have a farmer who perhaps never availed of the service before and now finds that he must diversify because of the difficulties he is having with his bank account, and with keeping bread on the table, and he now finds that he must avail of it half way through the year must he also pay the £50? There are many farmers who will require three visits per year. Is one of those farmers required to pay the £50 the same as the farmer who has one visit per year or, indeed, the farmer who may resolve his difficulties by one phone call?

Much of the agricultural advice is given by telephone to somebody who, perhaps, has gone into a new area of farming because of necessity. Some morning he goes out and discovers a colour running through the leaves of his cabbage or whatever he has gone into. His fears can be allayed by a simple phone call. Will that phone call cost him £50 if his particular area office decide on a package deal of £50, or will there be a scaled down cost to that farmer? Will a ten minute or 20 minute conversation on the telephone cost him £50, or whatever the charge is? I believe we are running ourselves into more trouble for the sake of £1 million.

When we were attracting industry into this country in the sixties we thought we could not get big enough industries in. The bigger the industry, the greater the Government or the Minister shouted, the greater the banner headlines on the papers. What is the story there today? It is the industry with one, two, three or ten people employed that we are looking towards and that we are encouraging. What are we doing here? We are supplying a need through the ACOT services to the big man and we are eliminating the small person, or the person who is now getting into difficulties.

I feel so strongly about it that I do not think I can over emphasise the dangerous area that we are now getting into for the sake of a meagre £1 million in the greatest industry in the country, the industry we are depending on, the backbone of the nation. We are now asking them for £1 million but we may lose millions as time goes on. Can you imagine a full time farmer in the west of Ireland, a farmer on the dole, or many part time farmers who are unemployed, availing of a service that will cost them £50 and which is now free of charge?

I believe they will turn the other way. I do not know what they will do. We are doing nothing to help them out of their difficulties at the most crucial stage on agriculture, I suppose, in our life time. Farmers do not know which way to turn when they find themselves in difficulty or how they can diversify. They will have to pay for advice as to whether they should diversify at the worst time in their lives when they find that they have to diversify to stay in business, or become unemployed, or sell off their farms and change from one area to another.

I did not like it from the beginning. I have yet to be convinced that we will benefit from it. I see it bringing about the greatest change in the area of farming in this century. We are now advising that farmers should go into sheep. Many of them may be forced into taking the advice now being given from official quarters that sheep farming is the thing to be in. Many of them know nothing about sheep and they will need advice. They will need advice to decide whether they will even get into it. Will we charge them for that advice?

We are not going into the commercial area. Much of the advice we are giving through ACOT is not available in horticulture but in agriculture it is available in the commercial area. We are going half way into that. Can you be semi-commercial? I believe there will be a big fall-off in those availing of the service. There will be a slimming down in the utilisation of the service. That, no doubt, will bring a slimming down of the service. We will be moving further and further away from advising farmers on how to carry on business in this new world of technology and we will be leaving it open to those in the commercial field. You cannot be semi-commercial. You are either fully in the area, make the full charge and admit that you are doing it, or give the service free. We would be well advised to continue the service we have been giving.

I know of many people throughout the country who have had to go into part time poultry rearing to take one area. We have already cutback the service to those people. People going into poultry today must have 500 birds before we offer them the service. If a person sees the necessity to supplement his farm income, to rear a few turkeys for the Christmas trade, he either must go in over 500 and avail of the service, or do it without the service. If he decides on 200 or 300 turkeys, which would be sufficient for anybody who knows nothing about it, that service is not now available to him. Even without these charges that is not now available. I regretted that, when that decision was made. It was threatened a couple of years ago and it was made quite recently.

We are to do it in other areas now. I am not concerned about the 29,000 farmers who have had intensive service because, no matter what the charge is, they will avail of it and feel it is worth their while to pay it. I am sure the charge will not be excessive for them. They will get a return from it. It is the 41,000 I am concerned about. We do not know what category they are in or what service they got. Many of them may have availed of the phone-in service where the advisers are available at the end of a phone and many problems are resolved over the phone. Will that phone call cost £50 to the farmer? I know the Minister will say he can have a visit from the adviser for that, or he can have three visits in the year for that. He does not require it. He only needs a little advice on something he has been dealing with and now, with the new methods of growing, the new sprays and all the new angles in producing, he may need a little advice which he can get with a ten or 20 minute phone call. Will he have to pay £20, £30 or £50 for that phone call?

I am sorry I have had to go so hard on this, but I feel pretty strong about it. I come from an agricultural background. I have had to diversify and I know what I am talking about. I know the farmer needs the service most when he has to go into something that he is not used to. I am not in farming today but I still have an interest in it as I believe every Irish person has. It is the backbone of the nation and our greatest industry. I hope we are not doing ourselves harm and that we are not putting a nail in the coffin of the advisory service which has been so valuable to farmers down the years.

At the outset I should like to thank all of those who contributed to this debate. The contributions generally were very wide ranging and covered many facets of the agricultural industry and sometimes went beyond the scope of the Bill. If I might take the liberty of going beyond the scope of this Bill I should like to congratulate all the newly elected Senators, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Cathaoirleach and to say that as a former Member of this House I appreciate very much the quite outstanding work that is being done here in particular when Bills are introduced in this House before they go to the Dáil. This is of considerable benefit.

In relation to this Bill there is general agreement on all sides of the House that there should be some contribution to the cost from those who benefit from ACOT and from the advisory services. I share the concern expressed by the Members in relation to the lower category income farmers and those in financial difficulties in relation to the introduction of this Bill, but I would like to remind the House that this is an enabling measure which will merely allow ACOT to draw up a scheme of packages to bring in £1 million.

There are categories of farmers who are quite able to pay for these charges. It would not do their balance sheet any harm to pay for charges because even at this stage, with all the material that is available now and the difficulties of public finances, the reality is that some people still feel that there are free services available and that there are free lunches. The reality is that we are gone past that stage and that somebody has to pay for everything that is going. In relation to advisory services, the general taxpayer or somebody else has to pay for them. In this instance we are talking about introducing enabling legislation so that those who can afford to pay will be asked to contribute.

A substantial number of highly developed farmers have good incomes. I draw the attention of this House to the An Foras Talúntais farm management survey of 1985 which showed that, of the 70,000 full time farmers interviewed, almost 13,000 earned up to £15,000 per annum and 14,280 earned over £15,000 per annum. In that survey it was estimated that a substantial number of farmers had an average income over £25,000 per annum. It is only fair and reasonable that farmers who are earning incomes in that category should be asked to contribute to something from which they are benefiting from to a great degree. I would go further and say that the people who will really gain from that are the smaller farmers, some of them in disadvantaged areas. There are people outside disadvantaged areas who are sometimes more acutely disadvantaged because they are not able to avail of headage payments or some of the entitlements of the disadvantaged area farmers. By getting some of the finances into ACOT from people who can afford to pay then a wider range of services can be made available, in particular for the poorer sections of the farming community.

In relation to the service to the farming community generally, ACOT will be able to provide seminars, courses, advice per telephone and generally provide a far better range of services. They are getting £28 million this year, which is a substantial amount of money in any terms. This Bill will enable ACOT to earmark £1 million to be contributed by the farming community and by those benefiting most from it. In the whole area of services now provided by Government agencies there is a realisation that those benefiting from a particular service should make a contribution towards it.

I would like to remind the House that before any scheme of charges is drawn up it will have to be agreed by the Minister for Agriculture and Food. I want to assure Senators that the position of the less well off members of the farming community will be taken into account before ultimately ministerial approval will be given for a system of charges. I am satisfied that in the overall interests of agricultural sector a level of fees will be introduced which will not cause hardship to any section of the farming community. It will in fact allow ACOT to provide a wider range of services.

I should also add that, if in the light of changing circumstances the Minister for Agriculture and Food considers that fees or terms should be varied or terminated, he will have the power under the legislation to vary, terminate or alter the terms or conditions of any scheme of charges which might be drawn up. Consequently, I have no hesitation in reiterating the position I outlined in the Dáil, that is, that it will be possible for ACOT, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture and Food, to produce a system of charges which will take into account the situation and, in particular, the financial and development situation of farmers in the different categories.

This might be done by making available a range of packages which would give due consideration and weight to the particular advisory needs of the various categories of farmers and their ability to pay. I wish to re-emphasise that no farmer will be left without an advisory service if he is unable to pay for it or if the payment will cause undue hardship to him. We are asking farmers who have a substantial income, in some cases in excess of the average industrial wage, to contribute towards the service from which they benefit. I am also satisfied that there are adequate safeguards in the Bill to ensure that the charging of fees for advisory services will not inhibit ACOT's key role in the promotion of the efficiency of Irish farming and assisting its development to its full potential. I commend this Bill to the House.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I thank the Minister of State for his kind words at the beginning of his speech.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.