Before we resume on section 17 of this Bill, I want to remind the House that on the last day the Bill was taken the dissolution of the county committees of agriculture was extensively discussed on an amendment to this section. It would help all of us if we could discuss the section. Of course, I am not dictating to any of my colleagues.
Agriculture (Research, Training and Advice) Bill, 1988: Committee Stage (Resumed).
Amendments Nos. 31 to 33, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 14, subsection (1) (a), lines 43 and 44, to delete subparagraph (ii).
Again, talking of our worries about what the Minister has in mind in these restrictive sections he has placed into the Bill, a feature of this Bill is that in many of its sections — the Minister has been at pains to point out to us that it is a Bill about openness, about co-operation, etc. — we find such clauses as in paragraph (ii):
to refrain from providing specified services or carrying on specified activities.
Perhaps before I go on the Minister might elaborate on what he actually means by that passage.
I would like to assure Senator Connor that there is no difficulty as far as the day to day activities of Teagasc are concerned — that is just a paragraph in the Bill. It is only in the broad outlines that the Minister wishes to give direction one way or another. It is reasonable in the case of a State body who receive funds for their expenditure that the Minister should have this overall direction to give to the body. On the day to day activities there is no question of any ministerial or political interference. That is specifically provided for in the Bill. The day to day activities of Teagasc will be a matter for the director and council of Teagasc and I would like to assure Senator Connor on that matter.
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 15, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following new subsection:
"(3) Any such directions in writing by the Minister arising out of subsections (1) and (2) of this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be possible after it is made and, if a resolution annulling the direction is passed by either such House within the next 21 days on which that House has sat after the direction is laid before it, the direction shall be annulled accordingly, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder.".
What concerns the Labour Party here is that any directions made under subsections (1) and (2) of this section should be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Our concern is in regard to the primacy of Parliament. Any directions which are made by the Minister should be made available and the right should be there to bring them before the Houses of the Oireachtas within 21 days to annul them if so decided.
The position here is that the programme of work of Teagasc, the programme of research and development work, advisory, training and educational activities, is laid before the Minister each year and similarly, at the end of each year, a report is presented to the Government and that annual report of activities is, of course, laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. Those two instances, the programme of work and the annual report, should be adequate and any proposal to lay directions before the two Houses would be excessively bureaucratic I do not think it would be in the best interests of Teagasc or the workforce there. For every reason, I do not think it is appropriate to accept this amendment.
The point is that we are not objecting to the ministerial order being made. We are asking that, as soon as possible after it is made, it should be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. That is really the nub of the amendment.
I do not think there is any requirement for this because the Minister of the day will be presented with a programme of work for the following year by the director of Teagasc; each year the annual report of work completed will be presented to the Government and that report will be laid before both Houses.
Our main problem here was dealt with under section 17. That related to the abolition of the county committees of agriculture. As that section has been voted on and dealt with, we are just stating our opposition to the section on that basis.
Amendments Nos. 34, 36 and 38 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 19, lines 5 to 21, to delete paragraph 7 and substitute the following:
"7.—Of the ordinary members of Teagasc—
(a) Seven shall be persons engaged in, or having knowledge or experience (being knowledge or experience that the Minister considers appropriate for membership of Teagasc) of or in relation to, agriculture, agricultural research, agricultural advice, education (including higher education), food processing, the food processing industry or the management of commercial enterprise, or persons chosen by the Minister after consultation with such persons as he considers appropriate who are engaged in, or the representatives of those engaged in, agriculture or the promotion or development of the agricultural industry, and
(b) Three shall be persons who are representatives of the staff of Teagasc and they shall be selected in accordance with the provisions of an order made for that purpose by the Minister and any such order shall indicate the procedure for filling casual vacancies.".
Essentially our interest here is that there would be a proper basis for worker participation. Specifically we are hoping that three representatives of the staff of Teagasc would be worker directors. The other point related to this is that during the debate on the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Bill when we dealt with the listed bodies I sought a specific assurance from the Minister that when Teagasc was set up it would be added to the list of bodies which would come under the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Bill; that was for sub-board participation as well. The Minister said at that stage it was the intention of the Department of Agriculture and Food that that would be the case. Essentially, our interest here is that the workers in Teagasc would have three representatives out of seven.
In this day and age even with the rate of change, the way things are being merged through State agencies and also with the emphasis on transfers and mergers etc. between trade unions and the whole rationalisation process which is creating great problems, we nevertheless, to a great extent, welcome that development. In this context it would be very sad if when there are many difficult and complex problems developing, the whole idea of worker participation would not be much more strongly emphasised. I am not suggesting for one moment that it does not exist in this case but rather that it should exist with much more emphasis than heretofore.
A debate on worker participation has been going on now for over 25 years. The real problem was the question of the different levels within the industry when it comes to dealing with State agencies I do not see where there is any great difficulty. I am not saying that everything is open about the existing Government but it has been quite open about many issues in theNational Programme for Recovery etc. As a follow-on to that and their own policy of proceedings with these mergers and the rationalisation process, I feel there is room there for an extension of worker participation. This is an opportunity for the Minister to give a little more emphasis to it having regard to what is in the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Bill.
In relation to these amendments the position is that the board of Teagasc shall be composed of ten members. In the original format of the Bill the Minister had the nomination of all members but during the passage of the Bill through the Dáil, the Minister made a major concession in that he allowed five, or half the ordinary members of the board, to come from nominating bodies. In the debate in the Dáil there was a demand that the nominating bodies should be named but the Minister did not accept that. He wanted the maximum flexibility because he said at the very outset that he wanted a small board, that is a board of ten, comprised of the best and highest calibre people. The five nominating bodies will represent most comprehensively the entire agriculture and food area.
I would not see any difficulty in the staff association of the new body, which would be the staff associations and the representatives of the workers of An Foras and ACOT, putting forward their nominations in the same way as any other organisation who feel they have a contribution to make. The most appropriate way to do it is for the Minister to accept the nomination of five members of the board. Those bodies who have a nomination are not named and I see no great difficulty there. In fact, it is appropriate that people with the widest knowledge and range of experience and people of the highest calibre should be appointed. There is a tremendous important job of work to be done by Teagasc and that certainly can best be done by having a representative council and a representative board.
The major concession made in the Dáil that, rather than having the ten nominations himself the Minister would give half the nominations to nominating bodies, offers a correct procedure. Those bodies have not been named so no individual organisation or body is given an exclusive right to a nomination. In relation to that matter, in the Dáil debate Deputy Deasy, the former Minister, made a very persuasive and cogent argument in favour of flexibility while, at the same time allowing half the members to be nominated from representative organisations. For that reason, I believe the Schedule should stand and I cannot accept this amendment.
It is on this point about the five members to come from the nominating bodies or bodies nominated by the Minister that I wish to get clarification. I take it from the Minister's remarks that the nominating bodies will have the authority to name or nominate the persons they will determine are the persons with sufficient knowledge, as laid down within the terms of this section, to fill the seats or to fill the places. Does the Minister hold the right to veto over the nomination of a particular individual by a nominating body? If the Minister does not like the person nominated, can he veto that nomination?
Senator Connor mentioned one of the points I was going to make, that is, the question of veto: who says who is the best qualified person? The real problem here is that the concept of worker participation is not expressed in this matter of accepting five people. That is the problem and the Minister will have to pursue that a little bit further. We have no guarantee of worker participation despite our previous efforts on the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Bill to have this principle extended. We have no guarantee that there will be no veto over the nominations. We have to be sure what the Minister has in mind and how far he can go down the road with regard to the whole matter of worker participation.
I would ask the Minister to respond also on this point. I quote from the Minister for Labour, in reply to the Committee Stage of the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Bill:
The Department of Agriculture and Food have indicated that Teagasc will be included in the sub-board provisions of the Bill in place of ACOT and An Foras Talúntais in due course.
Will that be honoured by the Government? Will Teagasc in fact have sub-board participation by workers and could the Minister give us any indication at all or any guarantee that there will be any worker participation in the board of Teagasc?
Could you give the reference, the column, page and the date?
It is volume 118, No. 18, of the Official Report of Wednesday, 9 March 1988.
In relation to the five members nominated, it would be just as well to read out the paragraph for the record because it is quite clear:
Five shall be persons nominated for appointment as members of Teagasc by such organisations as the Minister may determine that are representative of persons engaged in agriculture or the promotion or the development of the agricultural industry; and the Minister may appoint as members of Teagasc one or more persons nominated under this subparagraph by such an organisation as aforesaid or one or more persons nominated by a group, designated by the Minister, of such organisations as aforesaid.
It is quite clear from that paragraph. You have the five ordinary members of the board who will be exclusively from organisations representative of the agriculture and food industry. I see no reason why the staff association or organisation should not be one of those five.
In relation to sub-committees, we went into that matter here in very great detail last week. Sub-committees will be set up by a new council. The sub-committees will be a matter for the council of Teagasc and I can give an assurance that they will be representative of the industry and representative of all interests in relation to the development of agriculture and food. Because the board of Teagasc will be widely representative of industry, it would be very foolish for the board to have committees reporting directly to the director who were not representative of the staff and of the sectional areas of food and agriculture. As I said last week, at least one sub-group has already been set up in relation to the food research and development area and I envisage that over the next weeks and months additional sub-committees will be established.
To get back to the main point again, it is that half the ordinary members of the board will be representative of organisations who will have the exclusive right of nomination. The only constraint on that is that the individual organisations are not specified or not nominated. The Minister in the Dáil felt that it would be better not to do that because if you had the five nominated, if other interests or organisations felt that they had as good a right as anybody else, they would be excluded. The present Schedule is most appropriate. I do not intend to concede on the present wording.
While the Minister's reply is comprehensive it does not allay our misgivings about the Minister's right of veto over the nomination of any individual by a nominated body. The word "may" is included; the Minister "may" appoint. We had big arguments about "may" and "shall" on this Bill. It certainly would be more positive for us and it would allay our fears and misgivings if the word "shall" were used. We would be satisfied as long as the person was nominated by one of these organisations. Obviously, we are talking about organisations such as the IFA, the ICMSA, Macra na Feirme, the ICA and the people who were on the old board of ACOT. We would seek assurances that the Minister — not this Minister but future Ministers — would not veto a person he may dislike. That person could be absolutely competent for that post. We have had a history — I suppose we are all to blame to some extent — of State boards becoming quangos for all kinds of inappropriate goings on. Since we are setting up a new board here it is absolutely essential that appropriate people are appointed to it.
There is no difficulty about that. The first line says "shall be appointed", so it is clear that they shall and will be appointed by the Minister.
We do not want to be awkward about this. The Minister has not responded to me regarding the word "participation". I quoted the Minister for Labour earlier who said that the Department of Agriculture and Food indicated that Teagasc would be included in the Schedules to the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Bill. I am looking for a direct answer here. Have we any guarantee that there will be worker participation on the board of Teagasc?
There is a great problem here. Paragraph 7 of the Schedule will read:
Five shall be persons engaged in or having knowledge or experience (being knowledge or experience that the Minister considers appropriate for membership of An Teagasc) of or in relation to, agriculture, agricultural research, education (including higher education), food processing, the food processing industry or the management of commercial enterprises, or persons chosen by the Minister after consultation with such persons as he considers appropriate who are engaged in, or are representatives of those engaged in, agriculture or the promotion or development of the agricultural industry.
It is quite clear that the veto is there and the whole question of expertise predominates. You must have the expertise to make it work, to get the agricultural research and the education done correctly. There is also an aspect to it of an actual knowledge of industrial relations, the knowledge of the man related to the actual work practices. By virtue of the right of veto it will not be specifically stated that there will be worker participation. This is our dilemma.
In relation to sub-boards and sub-committees, this matter was discussed at great length here a week ago. I said then and I am saying again now that there will be maximum flexibility in the appointment of members of sub-boards and sub-committees to give the greatest representation to organisations who want to further the development of Irish agriculture and food.
I agree totally with the spirit of Senator O'Shea's contribution. I have no doubt that Teagasc will take into account the Labour Services Act, 1987, in the appointment of personnel to the various sub-boards and sub-committees. We want the best people, people of the highest calibre. At the same time we want a degree of flexibility so that in time the Minister of the day will have the most representative organisation. I know from my own experience that when organisations representing agriculture and organisations representing political parties are named from time to time, they go into decline. Sometimes they become extinct and still the old nomination remains.
It would be most appropriate, in the long term, for whatever Minister is responsible for the development of agriculture, over time, to have the maximum flexibility while, at the same time, it is clearly written into the Act that half the members of the board of Teagasc shall be appointed by relevant and representative organisations and that the sub-committees or sub-boards will similarly be representative of specific areas of activity. It would be in the best interests of the future and long term development of agriculture and food to retain this Schedule in its present form.
- Bohan, Edward Joseph.
- Byrne, Seán.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Cullimore, Séamus.
- Doherty, Michael.
- Fitzgerald, Tom.
- Fitzsimons, Jack.
- Hanafin, Des.
- Haughey, Seán F.
- Hillery, Brian.
- Hussey, Thomas.
- Kiely, Dan.
- Lanigan, Mick.
- Lydon, Donal.
- McGowan, Patrick.
- Mullooly, Brian.
- Mulroy, Jimmy.
- O'Callaghan, Vivian.
- Ross, Shane P.N.
- Ryan, William.
- Wallace, Mary.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Bulbulia, Katharine.
- Connor, John.
- Cregan, Denis.
- Doyle, Joe.
- Harte, John.
- Hogan, Philip.
- Kelleher, Peter.
- McDonald, Charlie.
- McMahon, Larry.
- O'Shea, Brian.
- O'Toole, Joe.
Amendments Nos. 35 and 37 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 35:
In page 19, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following new paragraph:
"8.—An ordinary member of the Board who has—
(a) any material or financial interest in any body corporate with which Teagasc proposes to make any contract, or
(b) any material or financial interest in any contract which Teagasc proposes to make.
The rationale behind these two amendments is clear. It relates specifically to conflict of interest. It is a fair and equitable approach that people who are members of the board of Teagasc should not take part in decision-making where they may be competing for contracts or whatever from the resources of the board. This is a prudent and just principle.
I do not think there is any necessity for this. It would be a departure from the legislation in existence for AFT and ACOT. I do not see any good reason for the amendments. In the recent legislation passed by the Oireachtas in the case of Eolas there was a provision for disclosure. In the case of FAS there was no provision for disclosure so there is no hard and fast rule in relation to the concept. There is no need for these amendments and I do not propose to accept them.
Did I understand the Minister correctly? Is he saying that he does not care whether people on the board have vested interests? Is that what the Minister said?
On the contrary, I stated last week and again this week that the highest calibre of people should be appointed to this board, people of the highest integrity. If there is any question about a conflict of interest it will be a matter for Teagasc who will be represented on the board. As I stated here on the last section, half of the board will be representative of organisations and half appointed by the Minister.
It will be a widely representative board and if they feel there is any difficulty in relation to a conflict of interest they can adopt a resolution ensuring that there will be no conflict of interest in this section. There is no requirement for it and I do not think in practice it will cause any problem because in the long history of An Foras Talúntais there was no such difficulty and no such conflict of interest over the years. I do not think that there will be any in this new body either.
It is a new body. I have no doubt that everybody should be trusted. You have to ensure that you give it as much trust as possible. People are people and human beings are human beings. The very fact that it is a new body with a much broader aspect to it means that the probability is that someone may have a vested interest. There is no mechanism at the moment whereby, if people are nominated to the agency, you can determine in advance that somebody will have a vested interest and therefore it would be contrary to the interest of the body as a whole.
It would also seem to me to be the wrong thing to do to wait until you have a group of people appointed whom you have taken on trust and all of a sudden somebody puts a motion down saying: "So and so should not be in on these discussions because he has a vested interest." On the other hand, you cannot say it should be left to the individual to declare that he has a vested interest and that he will not participate in that part of the proceedings. Quite frankly, it is much more honest and open and it is a better way of dealing with people. It is not saying to people that we mistrust them. It should be indicated to them quite clearly that, if at any stage during the proceedings they have a vested interest in anything, they will be expected not to participate in those proceedings.
Senators who are members of local authorities on election have to declare their interest because local authorities deal with contracts at various times. Would the Minister clarify for me if such a register of interests is supplied to members of Teagasc? Would not a simple rule of disclosure be at least something he should consider? If somebody has an interest in a company, for example, looking for a particular contract, that should be known to the fellow directors or fellow members of the board of Teagasc. There should be at least a register of interests which someone should provide on their appointment.
The position here again is that the maximum amount of authority and flexibility should be given to Teagasc and the directors of Teagasc. They should be quite capable of running this organisation and ensuring that there is no inappropriate activity by any member of the board, by any firm or organisation that might be given a contract by Teagasc. There is nothing in the Bill in relation to a register Senator O'Shea asked about. If there is a real difficulty there is in paragraph 12 a provision which states:
The Minister may at any time remove an ordinary member of Teagasc from office.
I hope it will not come to that, but the Minister has that authority under the Bill. He can remove a member or a number of members if that be the case. The reality is that the members who would be appropriate for appointment to this board would be people of the highest calibre and the highest integrity. There was no difficulty over the past several decades. I do not envisage any difficulty in the future. I have the greatest confidence in the new director, whoever he or she may be, and the board of Teagasc running the organisation as a national organisation with State and taxpayer's funding. For that reason I cannot accept these amendments to the Bill.
Amendment No. 36 has been discussed already.
I did not quite catch what the Chair said regarding amendment No. 36?
It has been discussed.