(Cavan): The Resolution we are discussing at present asks the House to authorise the expenditure of an unnamed sum of money to implement the Livestock Marts Bill, 1967, or any other Bill that may be introduced in this session under the same title. When an individual is faced with a demand to spend money, the first questions he asks himself is: “Can I afford to make this payment?” and secondly: “Is the expenditure necessary?” I venture to suggest that that is a reasonable test for us, as custodians of the public purse, to apply to any request for the expenditure of money which comes before us.
In the first place, I ask myself: can the Exchequer at the present time bear the expenditure which this Resolution seeks to impose on it? I can only try to estimate the financial condition of the country and of the Exchequer at the present time by the various yardsticks available to me. According to the measurements which I make with those yardsticks, the country is not in an affluent financial condition at present. I think I am correct in saying that no provision was made in the Budget for the expenditure we are now asked to authorise. In fact, I would say the Bill was not thought of at that time.
But, without going into any of these things in detail, one knows how difficult it is to get a housing grant paid at present. One knows the long delays of several months that applicants for housing grants have to experience. One also knows that only within the past few weeks it was announced that road grants were cut by 26 per cent, or something in the neighbourhood of £1 million. That suggests to me that we are not well off. It suggests to me that we should not spend any money or commit ourselves to any expenditure which we can avoid. If the Minister could tell us how much money is involved in this Resolution, we might be in a better position to give a considered opinion on it.
I would ask the Minister to tell the House where the money he is asking us to vote is to come from. It has not been provided in the Budget. Will it mean there will be longer delays in payment of housing grants and Land Project grants? Will it mean it will take longer for farmers to get compensation for reactor cows under the Bovine TB Eradication Scheme? Will it mean we will have a further reduction or revision of the amount of the road grant for each county? Thoses are pertinent questions, questions which any set of legislators faced with a demand of this sort should ask themselves.
I do not think the Minister for Finance or any member of the Government seriously thinks, or has made the case recently, that we have money to waste or that we have more money in the Exchequer than we need to meet normal commitments. Unless we have, we should not be spending money or authorising the expenditure of money on the Bill we are now discussing. So much for the state of the Exchequer and state of the national purse, as far as we can judge it. As I said before the Dáil went into recess for a short time, if a reduction of the Road Fund grants by 25 per cent this year as compared with last year is an indication of the financial position of the Government and of the Exchequer then I venture to suggest we are in a bad state and that every penny that can be saved should be saved and that there should be no waste and no extravagance.
Is this expenditure necessary? That is the next thing any prudent legislator should ask himself. I am forced to say it is not necessary. Livestock marts are a comparative innovation in this country. For years and years, longer than anybody in this House can remember, we have had the traditional type of fair, the traditional buying and selling in public places, and the Government did nothing about it. The Government did not regard the holding of fairs on the streets as injurious to public health or as unhygienic. There was, indeed, a certain school of thought which complained bitterly about the marketing system which was available to the agricultural community but there was one person who did nothing to improve the marketing system either inside or outside the country, the Minister for Agriculture. He and his predecessors were prepared to let things jog along as they had jogged along for centuries, to let the system of buying and selling that had been in operation over the years continue. The farmers decided to establish the marts system and immediately the Government, through its Minister for Agriculture, rush in at the first opportunity, without waiting to see how these marts operated, with this Bill, to impose the most stringent and, in some cases, the most objectionable conditions and regulations regarding these livestock marts.
Deputy O'Higgins stressed the fact that it is most inexpedient at present that this money should be voted or that this measure should be passed. I could not agree more and the vast majority of the people are of the same opinion. The Minister conceived this measure in a fit of bad temper. He conceived it when he and operators of these marts, or some of them, were on very bad terms, and that is putting it at its mildest. Now the Minister seeks to steamroll this Bill through the House in the shortest possible time so that he may be provided with the machinery to chastise certain people with whom he recently fell out. It is as simple as that. There should be a cooling-off period. The Minister should be allowed to take a holiday. He should be allowed to relax and to forget about the unfortunate incidents that have taken place over the past six to 12 months before he arms himself with a dangerous weapon such as this to wreak vengeance on the people with whom he is as yet on extremely bad terms.
That is a reasonable proposition. If this House does nothing more than ensure that the Minister has two or three months to think the matter over, to reconsider the position, before it gives him the big stick which he is now seeking, it will have done a good job. This measure is totally unnecessary at present. Even on the Minister's case it is unnecessary. It is an intrusion on the rights of private operators and cannot be justified. Even on the Minister's case when he saw fit to quote an occasional isolated abuse, as he described it, the measures contained in this Bill cannot be justified.
I have no intention of dealing with the Bill item by item, or of making more than a passing reference to any section. Section 2 prohibits the operation of a livestock mart for the sale of cattle, sheep and pigs without a licence. I have already stated that this system of selling in public was operating long before any of us were born. I do not think there were any abuses; if there were abuses they righted themselves. Section 3, which has been dealt with at length by Deputy Dillon and other speakers, gives the Minister a completely blank cheque and authorises him to impose conditions or to revoke or amend conditions. In other words, it empowers him to do exactly as he likes with these people who are engaged in a legitimate business.
I ask the Minister: why does he pick out the people who are operating livestock marts, apart from all the other people who are engaged in buying and selling? A lot of them, some of whom I know myself, have gone into this on a non-profit-making basis in order to provide a service for the locality in which they reside. Why, I ask, does the Minister want to get a grip on the throats of these people, as distinct from so many others who are engaged in trade and commerce? Section 4 gives the Minister power to exempt particular marts from all the conditions of the Bill, to exempt particular individuals from any or all sections of the Bill. How can that be justified? What has the Minister in mind? We are rapidly approaching a state of affairs when a Minister will come into this House with a Bill which is so vague that it will give him a blank cheque to do what he wants without giving real information to the House.
We will reach a stage, if this goes on, when the Minister for Agriculture will come in here with a Bill authorising him to take such steps and do such things as he thinks expedient for the improvement of agriculture in the country. That is the stage we are coming to. That is the sort of Bill we are having introduced into this House, not alone from the Minister's Department but from every Department. That is the trend. I feel, and have felt for some considerable time, that it is a dangerous trend. It takes, perhaps, a good many years for a trend like that to become really harmful but, while 20 years is a long time in the life of an individual, it is a very short time in the life of a nation or the life of a country. If that trend continues, I venture to suggest that the people will lose control of the Departments of State which they have through their elected representatives.
I said that the Minister introduced this measure, or announced his intention of introducing it, committed himself to introducing it, in a fit of bad temper and he wrote section 7 into it in that frame of mind, the section which authorises the introduction of the Garda, if necessary. Who is to decide whether that is necessary or not? We know that we had extreme cases in the not too distant past when the Minister or one of his colleagues used a sledgehammer to kill a fly, when they called out the Army under the pretence that it was necessary and when everybody knew that it was unnecessary and that it should not have been done. That is what section 7 has written into it. It may be that there are amendments before this House, if we had time to consider them, which water down section 7. The very introduction of those amendments by the Minister is the best possible evidence to me that now is not the time to entrust this measure to the Minister because already he has been convinced, apparently from outside this House, that he went a bit too far, that his proposals were too drastic, that the sections in the Bill are not necessary and, if he gets another few months to cool off and think over the matter, I believe that he will be convinced that there are a lot of other sections in this Bill that are too big and too strong and too heavy and quite unnecessary.
It is only a very short time since the Bill was circulated. Permission to print it was given on 31st May. I do not know when it was printed and I cannot be accurate as to the day on which we received it but I venture to suggest that it is a short time ago. Already, as I say, the Minister comes in with several amendments watering it down somewhat. Is that not evidence that he went too far? Is it not evidence that he conceived the Bill in haste? Is it not evidence that he framed it and introduced it in bad temper? I understand that the concessions made do not go very far but is the more important aspect of it not that the Minister is grasping out for the remainder of the Bill: for section 2 which will enable him to grant licences; for section 3, which will enable him to attach conditions to those licences and amend or revoke them; for section 4 which will empower him to exempt marts from licences and for the gloriously vague but very dangerous section 6 under which he can make regulations to his heart's content; for section 7 which will enable him to go back to the days of the Department of Supplies during the war and require the keeping of records, authorising his inspectors to inspect those records, and all the rest of it? He is grasping out now for those sections and, if he gets them in his present frame of mind, he will use them against the people he thinks it was necessary to introduce this Bill to deal with.
The Minister's judgment on the whole sorry episode between the Department and organised farmers in this country has not been sound and I think that is a reason, and an excellent reason, why we in this House should refuse to give it to him, even at the end of a session when we would prefer, I suppose, to get home. That is an excellent reason why we should not allow this Bill to be steamrolled through this House without full consideration and without the certain knowledge that it will have been properly considered, that its provisions will have been properly ventilated and that public opinion will have had an opportunity of making itself felt on it before we pass it.
I strongly recommend to this House that it refuse to authorise this expenditure because the amount of the expenditure is unknowable—it has not been provided for in this year's Budget and the Exchequer, as far as we can see, is in a very poor financial position and cannot afford this—and also on the ground that the purpose for which the money is being spent is not a necessary purpose, that it is a waste of money, an extravagance in which we are being asked to indulge in order to allow the Minister to vindicate himself and to get his own back on the people with whom he has fallen out. I do not think the House should lend itself to this sort of measure at this particular time.