Judging from the descriptions I have heard of it, it seemed to be interesting and possibly even informative. I gathered the Minister repeated his performance in endeavouring to read this definition section in the context of including in it the various amendments which have been proposed and some of which have been discussed. Of course, that is not realistic.
As Deputy Clinton pointed out and as I pointed out earlier, we are moving a series of amendments. A number of them would not arise if the first amendment which was debated to this section had been accepted. It is because of the insistence of the Government that this Bill should be so framed that it applies not only to auctions but to any other type of sale of livestock which is involved in the inclusion in the definition section of the words "or otherwise" and because they resisted the amendment proposed in that connection that it then became necessary for us to consider in the light of that attitude, what alternative existed, what other method might be appropriate for mellowing in some way the provisions of this definition section.
The Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary will recall, I have no doubt, that the amendment we are now discussing and the other amendment, Nos. 1a, 2b and 3a, were handed in and tabled only when it became clear that there was no "give" in the Minister in relation to the first amendment proposed by Deputy Clinton. There is nothing anomalous, therefore, at all about tabling amendments which give, or are designed to give, alternative reliefs if the one at first suggested could not be availed of. In those circumstances, the other amendmenrs were tabled only when it became clear that the first amendment would not be accepted.
All the amendments are designed to limit the scope of the operation of this Bill. The only way in which the scope of its operation can effectively be limited is by an amendment of the definition section. It has been pointed out already that this section is an all-important section because it sets out the territory over which the writ of this Bill will run. The definition section sets out the types of places, the types of transactions, that will be made subiect to the other provisions in the Bill. If the definition section is expanded, then the whole scope of the Bill is ex-Danded. If the definition section is limited or restricted in any way, then the whole scope of the operation of the Bill is likewise limited and restricted.
We are unashamedly seeking to limit the scope of the operation of this Bill. It has, I think, been made quite clear, and I think it is accepted by both sides of the House, that the second part of the definition of a livestock mart, which appears in the definition section, is open to endless possibilities if it remains unaltered and, in particular, if the word "adapted" is allowed to remain in that definition without any qualification or modification whatever.
Other amendments were designed to bring about a limitation of the section and thereby to bring about a limitation of the operation of the Bill, when enacted. The amendment we are concerned with at the moment is designed to pinpoint as far as we can the type of place which will be affected by this Bill when it becomes an Act. It is suggested in the definition of "business of a livestock mart" which appears in the Bill at the moment that any place which is adapted, and adapted in any way, for the sale of livestock by auction should come within the scope of this Bill.
What does coming within the scope of the Bill involve? I do not want to wander into a discussion which anticipates any of the other sections of the Bill or any of the other amendments, but as the Minister pointed out, it is necessary to have regard in our discussions to what comes later. It is at least necessary, to drive home the point, to advert to what the scope of the Bill involves. It involves the necessity of obtaining a licence. It involves that that licence, the giving or withholding of it, should be within the sole discretion of the Minister. I do not intend to initiate a discussion on that but when we have regard to that fact, we shall see that the question of what will or what will not be affected by the licensing provisions of this Bill is important and they are defined by the section we are now discussing arising out of this amendment.
As it stands, any adaptation of a place which renders that place fit or suitable for the sale of livestock by auction is captured, in my view, by this definition. I know there is the point of view, and I think there is validity in it, that it is captured only if it is more than an isolated incident, if the business of providing such a place is being operated, but the business of providing such a place may be operated in a number of ways which I still believe it was never contemplated should require to be licensed under the Bill. The most glaring example of that is the case of a man who habitually conducts, or arranges to have conducted, a sale of his own livestock in his own premises. There seems to be no doubt that if he does that as a course of conduct, does it following a traditional pattern which he has established himself or which has been established by his father or forefathers in relation to that place—if that is done by auction and if the premises are in any way adapted, such a transaction is captured for licence under this.
As I say, as long as the word "adapted" is not modified or limited in any way, then it does not matter whether the adaptation that takes place is large or small. It has been conceded that the throwing out of a few bales of straw to make comfortable seating accommodation under cover for people interested in bidding for the livestock comes within the ambit of this definition. That has been made clear through the discussions that took place on other amendments and it is not necessary to labour the point, but when we see that an adaptation as slight as that can bring that place within the ambit of this definition, then surely we can see the dangers involved in allowing this definition to remain unaltered and allowing the word "adapted" to remain without qualification.
As I have said, we made efforts which, without boasting, I would regard as valiant efforts to bring about some changes. Those efforts have been defeated because time after time the Government have applied the closure to the discussions and subsequently voted down the proposed amendments. The amendment we are now discussing is not an amendment which is going to change radically the position under this definition section. At least it is not going to bring about changes as radical as those already discussed here, and consequently Deputy Clinton is right when he points to the fact that by reason of the other amendments having been voted down, we are now a stage nearer to the Minister.
All we are asking in the amendment is to modify the word "adapted", which is an elastic word, by providing that the place in question should be adapted exclusively for the sale of livestock by auction. We do not like the idea that a place even adapted exclusively for the sale of livestock by auction should require to be licensed or exempt from a licence under this Bill. We do not like that idea at all but it is better that we should endeavour at least to limit the application of the Bill in so far as we can to such places as are exclusively adapted for the sale of livestock by auction.
Deputy Cunningham advised that this amendment should not be accepted. I do not pretend to recall accurately every word the Deputy uttered but the general idea of his argument seemed to be that he was against this amendment because it would penalise farmers' co-operative societies. Deputy Cunningham has the wrong idea about this Bill. He seems to regard it as a Bill which is conferring a benefit on people by requiring them to obtain a licence. That is poles apart from our conception of this Bill. We do not regard it as conferring any benefit on people to require that they should have their premises licensed. It is much preferable that the situation should exist where they do not require a licence and where they are not guilty of an offence if they do not obtain either a licence or an exemption order under section 4. Deputy Cunningham seems to think that there is some advantage in making this definition section as wide as possible to enable as many people as possible, as many businesses as possible and as many places as possible, to come within its ambit.
If Deputy Cunningham thinks about the matter a little more, he will find that the reverse is the position and that the more you confine the operation of this section the more you confine the operation of the Bill, and the more you confine the operation of the Bill, the fewer people are going to be afflicted by its provisions. Many of the provisions of the Bill are tough. As the Bill stands, they can lead to fines of £1,000 or six months in jail, or both, on breach of the provisions, so that so far as the ordinary owner of livestock Is concerned, it seems to me to be obviously to his advantage that he should not come within the scope of this Bill. We are trying in this amendment to exclude from its provisions any place which was not adapted exclusively for the sale of livestock by auction. If it is adapted exclusively for that purpose, then without any pleasure, without any joy in it, we are prepared to concede to the Minister: in that event let the provisions of this Bill apply, let that particular place be required to get a licence, let the owner be guilty of an offence if he carries on the business of a livestock mart in it without either obtaining a licence or obtaining an exemption under section 4. We are prepared to give that concession to the Minister—not because we like doing it but because the votes of the majority of Deputies have rejected what we regard as more suitable amendments, which would have a greater mellowing effect on the section.
Deputy Clinton stated that this Bill was unwanted. He was challenged on that by some Deputies who wanted to know by whom the Bill was unwanted. The difficulty is to find out who wants the Bill, apart from the Fianna Fáil Government. There is no gainsaying the fact that there has been no outcry in favour of this Bill. There has been no demand to have a Bill which defines the business of a livestock mart in this particular manner. There has been no demand from anyone I know of. It may be that the Minister, or the Deputies who interrupted Deputy Clinton, have more detailed information than I have. As far as I can see, the NFA, the Council of the Incorporated Law Society, the IAOS, the Cork Marts, the Associated Livestock Marts, and I think I could say two of the national newspapers, the Irish Independent and the Irish Times have all been critical of the provisions of this Bill. The Council of the Incorporated Law Society have described the Bill as “dangerous and possibly unconstitutional.” They have gone on record as giving their criticism of the Bill.
If the Bill remains unaltered, if the scope remains as wide as it is, then the danger is all the greater. The more you limit the scope of the Bill—at least this much can be said—the more you are reducing the danger that exists. If we could succeed by our efforts in connection with the definition section in reducing the application of this Bill to a large extent, then obviously the dangerous elements in the Bill would be reduced, because we would be confining the operation of the Bill to a smaller section of the community. I do not suggest that any section of the community should be afflicted in this manner. That is not our desire. This Bill has not been introduced by us. It has been introduced by the Minister for Agriculture
If we are going to have any reasoned discussion on these things in Parliament, surely it is only on the basis of an exchange of views across the floor of the House? Surely it can be only on the basis of weighing up the pros and the cons of each amendment as it is moved and discussed? It cannot be done by endeavouring to make a skit of serious amendments proposed unashamedly with a view to limiting the scope and operation of the Bill. I could just as easily bulk all the Minister's amendments together and try possibly to ridicule the Bill in regard to what its reading would be then. For example, at least one of the later amendments I have proposed would involve the deletion of a section of the Bill. Clearly, you cannot look upon that amendment as something to be added to a section when in fact the deletion of the section is involved if the amendment is accepted.
The main point in connection with this amendment is that its acceptance by the House would enable us to see reasonably clearly to what extent places would be affected by the operation of the Bill. If this amendment is accepted, the Bill will have application only if the particular place is adapted exclusively for the sale of livestock by auction. It will not apply otherwise. If it did not apply, then the other provisions of the Bill would not apply. That is an important point for Deputies opposite to keep in their minds—that any place excluded from this definitions section is then going to be freed from the other restrictions in the Bill. It is going to be freed from any requirement to obtain either a licence or an order exempting the licence requirement.
That could be of considerable importance, as had been pointed out, in connection with country fairs. There is no doubt that if fairs are held regularly, possibly on a monthly basis, in a particular locality, if that place is adapted in connection with the fair and, having been adapted for the fair, is then satisfactory and suitable for the sale of livestock by auction, that place or the proprietors of that place are in jeopardy under this Bill if they do not obtain a licence or an exemption order. That is the kind of danger we are trying to avert in arguing out this section and urging the acceptance of this and indeed the other amendments which have been tabled. I do not know if the Parliamentary Secretary has any authority at this stage to indicate his preparedness to accept this amendment. I hope that, if he is not prepared to accept it, he is at least prepared to report to his Minister that he should have second thoughts about the rejection of an amendment of this sort.
There are other matters which I suppose could be dealt with in connection with this amendment, or possibly they might be more relevant in connection with other amendments and other sections of this Bill. But the vital point to bear in mind is the desirability, from the point of view of those who are going to come up against this Bill, of limiting its operation as far as possible. The particular limitation now proposed is, as I said, not as radical an alteration as we would like but at least it would go some distance to make the position clearer and to clip the wings of the definition section.