Vote 40 : Agriculture .

: I move:

That a sum not exceeding £147,411,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1978, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Agriculture including certain services administered by that Office and for payment of certain subsidies and sundry grants-in-aid.

: The Votes for Agriculture and Lands may be discussed together.

: I cannot help but criticise the speed at which these Estimates are being pushed through. To those of us who are new this is a great opportunity to learn how these moneys are spent in the different Departments. The amount of time spent in county and urban councils, and even in business premises, on estimates is necessary. We waste a lot of time in this Dáil on matters which are less important than the Estimates. As a new Deputy I make that comment in passing. It is a great mistake that we move hundreds of millions of pounds in Estimates here today in a matter of a few hours whereas days and weeks are lost fiddling over small technical points in Bills. I have had this aired at party level. I understand that we will have no other opportunity to discuss these Estimates unless the Whips agree that time be made available.

I have looked through the Estimate for Agriculture and picked out a few points. I am told that I can have only a very short time to make these points and so I have picked out a few that I think necessary to mention. Under the heading of Educational Research and Advisory Services is subhead B8, Scholarships and Training, for which £216,000 was provided this year and £174,000 last year. This amount of money, out of approximately £22 million, under that heading is very small for a very important area of agriculture. The need for agricultural training has been fully recognised and that is borne out by the number of applications received by county committees of agriculture. I can speak only for the figures in my county where the present applications are 75 for 25 places. Unfortunately, the 50 unsuccessful candidates cannot avail of this type of education.

The Minister has said previously that there is a definite need for a minimum basic training before any young man goes into agriculture. The Minister's Department would need to take a serious look at this. I am prepared to accept that under EEC directives other training takes place in the county committees of agriculture, but you cannot beat the training given in these colleges. The present one-year course is the minimum that any young man taking up farming today should accept in his own interest and in the interest of the State.

I expressed views before in relation to the question of disease eradication. Approximately £19 million has been allocated under this heading. While the figures look good at the moment they looked reasonably good this time last year but deteriorated as time went on. There should be new initiatives under this heading. Progress has been slight over a 10-year period in this field. While the Minister claimed that he has taken certain steps, the steps taken are not sufficient. There is a massive abuse of moneys made available under this heading by certain farmers. I have not seen any legislation put into operation to stop this abuse. The changing of ear tags is one famous abuse which has been going on since the schemes to eradicate bovine tuberculosis began. I have no doubt that officials of the Department know that the ear tags for brucellosis cows are being changed as well. I cannot understand how the Department have not come up with some way of detecting this abuse and bringing these people to justice so as to stop the abuse and the spread of disease. If we are to make real progress new initiative must come into operation.

In relation to the lime and fertiliser scheme, the Minister reduced the estimate from £5,625,000 to £2,375,000. This was a mistake. It has been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the land needs lime and phosphatic manures. The Government took the subsidy from the phosphatic manures and not from lime but I am afraid that having interfered with the one they may interfere with the other. The amount of money given here is insignificant and it should not have been reduced. The land lacks and always has lacked lime and it will be some while before we bring the land to the point where there is sufficient lime so as to get the maximum production. Other manures are useless without the lime.

There has been quite an amount of agitation in relation to the question of subsidies on milk and dairy products. In today's Evening Press there is a heading “Milk Famine looms over price dispute”. My understanding is that price fixing for agricultural products is carried out by the EEC. After long drawn-out negotiations we got an 8 per cent increase. I cannot understand why the Minister has not given this increase having promised that it would take effect from 22 May 1978. We are now at 27 June. Approximately two or three weeks ago I asked a Parliamentary Question in relation to this and the Minister said it was under active consideration, but decisions have now been taken by the liquid milk producers of the Leinster area that milk will be diverted next week to manufacturing creameries. This disruption of the flow of milk to our cities is a grave mistake; it does nothing but harm all round. This occurred before and we had experience of it during our term of office when in 1972 the differential between liquid milk and manufacturing milk was eroded. We found that in the winter of that year liquid milk producers stopped producing milk and milk had to be imported to the Dublin area from the Munster area. This is a most unsatisfactory arrangement. I appeal to the Minister to stop this diversion and to give these people, even at this late stage, their just entitlement which he negotiated on their behalf. The Minister stated that there were problems with the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy but as Minister for Agriculture the Minister can fix the price for liquid milk whether or not he gets the agreement of that Department.

I notice in the Estimate that in relation to intervention there is a slight reduction from £19,350,000 to £18,900,000. I presume that the action taken by the Minister to stop heifers going into intervention makes this saving possible. The intervention system is a safeguard for the agricultural community in relation to surplus products. Any watering down of intervention is against the interests of the farmer and I appeal to the Minister not to water it further.

I understand that the Minister is taking Lands along with the Agriculture Estimate. We had a debate on the question of the 20,000,000 land bonds not so long ago. A case was made by Deputy Fitzpatrick that this only provides six months' work for the Land Commission. I would like to hear the Minister's views on that.

: I thank Deputy D'Arcy for his contribution and like him I regret that time will not permit the House to have a more exhaustive discussion on this important topic. I, like the Deputy, find myself in the position of having very little control over the way in which the House conducts business, but it is not possible to do it in any other way.

I agree with Deputy D'Arcy's observations with regard to the desirability of farm training and it is for this purpose that I introduced, a few weeks ago, the Agriculture (An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta) Bill, 1978. I hope that the House will deal with the Second Stage of that when it resumes in October. It is one of these urgent pieces of legislation that I regret we did not get to deal with before the recess.

I am sure Deputy D'Arcy and others will appreciate that the passage of the Finance Bill took precedence over that and every other Bill. When that Agriculture Bill passes through the House the direction of agricultural trading and advice will pass into the hands of the council of the new body. I am confident that the council will direct the business of agricultural trade and advice in the manner best related to the needs of agriculture. Like Deputy D'Arcy, I recognise not only the need for change but the state of evolution in which the whole business of agricultural trading and advice is at present. I would expect that in the next decade we will see very large changes in the whole approach of the agricultural industry and its use of specialised advice in that sector. It is in order that the legal framework in which our agricultural trading is held will be sufficiently flexible to tolerate and encourage desirable change that I look forward to the rapid passage of the Agriculture (An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta) Bill through the House.

I have very little quarrel with Deputy D'Arcy's remark that our progress over the years in the elimination of animal disease—first of all, of bovine tuberculosis, because that is the one we are longest attending—has been disappointing. Without wanting to throw any spanners in the works, it must be plain to everybody, because it is undeniable, that the most serious blow that animal disease eradication got in the recent decade was the virtual stoppage of the programme for a period of two years. One could not but expect that there would be a rapid increase in the incidence of reaction, both in regard to brucellosis and TB, in the cattle herds of the country. This did happen and was inevitable. Reactors were left unidentified.

I agree also with Deputy D'Arcy that there is a great deal of abuse throughout the whole system of disease eradication. There are umpteen different kinds of abuses, and for that purpose we will be introducing legislation immediately after the Summer Recess which will increase penalties for offences against the code of disease eradication, especially against people who engage in tag-switching and cheating herdowners and taxpayers also. This situation is intolerable and I believe the farmers are finding it intolerable. I think I can confidently look forward to their co-operation in a new effort not only to weed out reactor cattle among our herds but to weed out the people who are profiting by it. These are the people who are maintaining the situation in which disease eradication cannot be finalised. We cannot contemplate in the future a more or less endless disease eradication scheme. We must begin to think now in real active terms of terminal dates after which we will be able to say to ourselves that the incidence of bovine tuberculosis, and brucellosis later on, has been reduced almost to vanishing point. I am not so sanguine as to think there will be total elimination—there never is; disease has not been eliminated anywhere—but one can reduce its incidence to almost negligible proportions, when the economic gain to the country and its herd owners will be very significant.

There is another pressing factor in this disease eradication question. It is that we may find ourselves no longer in a position to export meat to our colleague countries in the EEC. There is no room at all for messing, or for tolerance of criminal practices within the disease eradication scheme—and I regret to say that they exist. I want to inform the House of my intention to see that they are winkled out, because we cannot afford to carry them with us. I want to say to Deputy D'Arcy that new initiatives have been taken. I accept what Deputy D'Arcy says, that it is all very fine to get a few encouraging figures—we have got them and are duly encouraged—but I am not such a fool as not to recognise that, as he said, they may well slip. It is necessary that the public be told, as frequently as figures are available, how we stand, how the campaign against disease is progressing, whether or not we are winning, because it would be a stimulus to everybody concerned to see that we keep on with it. I know it is not easy, that there will be a great many difficulties ahead, but we must be prepared to face them.

I regretted the removal of the phosphate subsidy. The House will appreciate that on the question of the deployment of available money within the agricultural sector one must have regard to the most pressing needs. Let us say if consideration were to be given to increasing the compensation rates for reactor cattle—and I believe them to be inadequate—one must weigh their value against the use of the available money in some other direction.

There is another factor involved we must all bear in mind. We are reverting from a situation in which agriculture was in a depressed condition. We had to be in a depressed condition when we were more or less bound hand and foot to the United Kingdom market before our entry to the EEC, when our exports to third countries, before they were known as "third countries", were bound by severe quota restrictions. A new situation obtains now in which production in agriculture is going up steadily. Farm incomes are going up in a satisfactory way, in real terms, as against 1973. I think there was in increase of 27 per cent—I am speaking from memory, but that is my recollection of it. Indeed farm production is visibly expanding. There is a new confidence being felt within the agricultural industry. One can see it as one travels the countryside—fairly hefty construction works going on in farmyards and big land improvement works as well. In that context farmers can very much stand on their own feet now. There was a time when farmers' incomes had to be maintained through price supports. That time has gone. Farmers, as a group of people, are very anxious to show not only that they can stand on their own feet but that they will be very glad to do so.

Assistance was given to phosphate fertiliser distribution because a great many farmers found it impossible to buy this fertiliser out of their incomes and so it was necessary to subsidise it. Needless to say a subsidy is always welcome but the necessity for it now is not as acute as it was.

I do not think there is any great need for alarm or despondency in regard to the price of what one might call urban milk. My Department have been having discussions with representatives of liquid milk pasteurisation and products with regard to a voluntary scheme of pay on a quality basis. These discussions were finalised on 12 June and the question of revising the minimum prices paid for liquid milk are now under active consideration. Other Departments have to be consulted in regard to aspects which are of interest to them. These consultations are taking place and a decision will not be unreasonably delayed.

: What does the Minister mean by "unreasonably delayed"?

: In regard to the exclusion of heifers from intervention, there is in my opinion an over-reliance on intervention. There is no need to resort now, as there was in the past, to intervention. We would, of course, always need to have the safety valve of intervention available but, having said that, it would be much better for ourselves and for the development of the meat industry if we got out into the market place and sold there. We can do that, I believe, with a great deal of advantage. It must be remembered that we need the heifers which might otherwise go into intervention for breeding purposes. It is bad practice to slaughter potentially suitable breeding animals and we should try to avoid that as much as possible. Nobody has lost by the closing off of intervention to heifers. This closing off was our own act. It had nothing to do with the EEC. I believe it was the right thing to do. We do not have to walk with a crutch when we can stand on our own two feet so why should we rely too much on supports of that kind?

Deputy Clinton rose.

: Just a brief question.

: I want to ask a few questions, if I may.

: We will allow one or two brief questions. We have about 30 remaining Estimates.

: I really do not know how we are expected to deal with Estimates today. We had a Minister reply to the last Estimate and most of the contributions were made when he had replied.

: I do not remember that happening. Once a Minister replies all that a Deputy is entitled to do is to ask a brief question. I am sorry, but that is the position.

: Nobody could attempt to deal with a subject so important and so comprehensive——

: The Chair understands that and agrees but——

: ——in the few minutes available.

: Just a brief question now. I am sure the Deputy will have another opportunity.

: In regard to liquid milk prices, is there any prospect of the Minister succeeding in getting away from the absolute farce of having to go around consulting three or four Departments? We can get the price of barley increased. We can get the price of meat increased. We can get the prices of other products increased but, when it comes to liquid milk, there have to be consultations with other Departments. It is an appalling situation. Is there any way around it?

Would the Minister tell the House if there is any foundation for public statements in the press and a number of journals that the type of tuberculin being used was completely defective and we do not know where we are in disease eradication because of that? I do not believe the statement is correct but I want an assurance from the Minister.

: A brief question, please.

: I cannot speak if I am confined——

: I would have given the Deputy an opportunity of speaking had he offered. I did not prevent him from speaking but the Minister has concluded and the Deputy may now ask only a brief question.

: I feel handicapped because the Minister made comments that were quite provocative. I hope I will get an opportunity to deal with them comprehensively because I think the Minister made these comments more or less deliberately.

Vote put and agreed to.