I am glad the Minister is in the House today. I gather he was not well and I am glad he is fully restored to health. I should like to outline the thinking behind this amendment. Before doing so I should like to outline the history of developments in this field. The previous Minister for Agriculture had before him reports which dated back for about ten years urging the reorganisation of the advisory, educational and research services of the State to streamline them and make them better servants of agricultural development. There were successive proposals for different forms of the reorganisation. It was felt that, while the existing system was working reasonably well, it was not the best possible system and that something should be done to co-ordinate research, advice and education into a more positive developmental role for agriculture.
The previous Minister, Deputy Clinton, took decisions on this issue. His decision was that the three areas of activity, the research service which was under the Agricultural Institute and some research which was also being carried out by the Department of Agriculture, the educational services which were being carried out by the Department of Agriculture directly or by private schools grant-aided by them, and the advisory services which were being carried out by the county committees of agriculture, should be brought together under one body which would give them a unified direction and a clear and unified management.
Objections were made in the course of the discussions that the autonomy of the Agricultural Institute should be preserved and that the Minister's proposals would create problems in this regard. The Minister went some considerable way in amending the proposals in the Bill to guarantee the operational freedom of the institute within the overall structure of the national agricultural authority, at least, to guarantee freedom of research within that overall authority. The institute would not continue to exist.
Deputy Gibbons was then spokesman on agriculture for the Opposition and he declared himself completely opposed to the proposals being put forward by his predecessor. He said that if returned to office he would reverse them and take the Agricultural Institute out from under the aegis of the national agricultural authority. Effectively that is what this Bill is doing. The name of the national agricultural authority is being changed to AnCOT but it is essentially the same body minus the Agricultural Institute.
This major change is the whole justification for the Bill. There are some other things in it but primarily we are discussing this Bill today because of the Minister's belief that the Agricultural Institute should be separated from any centralised body with responsibility for the overall development of research, education and advice on agriculture.
If the Minister had not taken this view we would not have had to have this Bill. We would have had the former Minister's Bill in operation now and development would be taking place under that Bill. We have lost about two years because of the present Minister's view that he had to undo the work of his predecessor in this respect. Time is money and we have lost time in the process. It behoves the Minister to have a good reason for what he is doing to justify the loss of two years in which developments could have been taking place and in which long-term planning could have been made. At present this is impossible because the bodies, in so far as advice and education are concerned, which would be carrying out such long-term planning do not now exist. Planning, which could have been taking place for the past two years if the previous Minister's programme had been allowed to continue, is not now taking place and probably will not take place for some time yet because there will be various delays in constituting a new Comhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta. In the meantime the precise situation of the Agricultural Institute is unclear because there are changes in this Bill in regard to their independence also which we will be discussing later.
We have had an unnecessary delay, although this view is not shared by the Minister. We have this Bill, we have to accept it as a reality that a delay has taken place and what is done cannot be undone. The purpose of the amendment we are advocating is to make the best of the Bill as it stands and to try to improve it, because we believe that there is an intimate connection between research on the one hand and advice and education on the other. Research in agriculture if it is to be relevant must be based on problems which farmers are actually facing in the field. There must be adequate means of getting the results of that research back to farmers in the field. Therefore there must be some unified strategy in regard to research and advisory activity and the channels of communication between advice in the field and research in the institutes of research must be guaranteed. Likewise it is vital that the education being imparted should reflect the latest research in agriculture.
Therefore I contend very strongly that there must be a close institutional connection between research on the one hand and advice and education on the other. The Minister for Agriculture says the only institutional connection necessary is for one or two members of each board to be members of the other board, that that is enough, that they are all reasonable men and they will share experiences and so on. They may be all reasonable men but they are all at the moment going to be working according to policies being laid down by different boards. They will be in separate institutions. There is no requirement for them to co-operate and in the absence of such a requirement it is the natural proclivity of all human beings to follow their own immediate interests, to respond to the immediate pressures on them and these are the pressures of their own institution.
Research people will be interested in the needs of research and follow that line. Likewise the people in the advisory services will be following their line. There is every danger of a divergence of strategy between the two institutions. The Minister will say he is responsible for both, he is providing the money for both and he can make sure that they do not follow divergent paths. That is not realistic because we all know that the Minister and his officials have many more pressing issues to be involved in than administrative problems, maybe at a fairly low level, in the Agricultural Institute on the one hand and in the comhairle on the other, as to whether co-operation is taking place on certain specific projects about development in relation to crop varieties or something like that. The Minister may be aware of one or two matters which come up in his own constituency but he cannot keep in continuing contact with these problems of liaison which could be occurring between the institute and the comhairle. He will not be able to do it. In practical terms we all know the pressures that Ministers are under and the pressures that higher civil servants are under. To suggest that they are going to be able to co-ordinate these two bodies, whose purposes are so intimately connected, and that that is enough is pie in the sky. We all agree that such co-ordination must take place. I contend that by separating the institute from the advice and education authority and having two separate institutions without any real means of making sure they follow a unified strategy the Minister is doing a bad day's work.
What we are putting forward is a compromise, and it is explicity stated to be a compromise, between the present Minister's position and the previous Minister's position. Perhaps the previous Minister, if he is in the House, will not agree with the compromise, but in the context of the Bill we have before us to advocate the position of the previous Minister would be to directly negative the position of the present Minister and that would not be an amendment and it would not be admitted as an amendment. Therefore, to have the matter discussed in an objective sense at all we have to put forward a compromise. In any event I think the compromise we are putting forward is a very reasonable one which was drafted after considerable thought. I believe the Minister for Agriculture would, if he were to accept it, be doing good for himself as well as for the country and for agriculture.
The compromise is that the Agricultural Institute will still continue to exist as a legal entity with its own staff, its own internal disciplines and management and its own director. An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta will also continue to exist as a legal entity with its own staff and its own director. Both agencies, in so far as their executive functions are concerned, will continue to exist independently and legally as in the present Bill. The only difference will be that there will be one board which will be responsible for both.
All of the people who are on either of the existing boards will be represented on this new joint board, which will meet one day as the board of the institute and another day as the board of the comhairle. The board will have a full-time chairman who will obviously be chairman of both boards. Therefore at policy level, but not at executive level, there would be one body responsible for making policies centrally. The execution of policy will be carried out by separate agencies which will continue to have a separate identity.
In my view that is basically what the previous Minister wanted to achieve and it is probably what the present Minister would like to achieve. I believe that this amendment achieves a degree of common ground in this controversy. The main objection to the amalgamation of the Agricultural Institute in the larger authority which was proposed previously was from the staff, who feared difficulties in relation to their position vis-á-vis independence, salary and so on. The staff of both bodies objected, as most staff would do. One can argue whether they were right or wrong, but staff in any institution tend to look at things from their own point of view, and why should they not? We all do that in our lives.
The amendment will meet the case of the staff because the institute will continue to exist and in so far as staff matters are concerned and so far as independence—independence from day to day interference—and the execution of policies are concerned, the institute will be independent. However, in regard to the setting of policies there will be one body for both advice and education and in this way we will have achieved a compromise which is realistic, valid and sensible between strongly-held points of view on both sides in this debate, a compromise which gives something to everyone concerned and which is the best possible compromise.
I would outline quickly precisely who would be on this joint board, which would be slightly larger than the board proposed in the Bill because it must encompass those who are already on the board of the Agricultural Institute and who are not on the comhairle board as proposed. The board we envisage would consist of 22 members and a chairman who would be full time. Of these members, seven would be nominated by the agricultural rural organisations and one would be nominated by each of the following: the Governing Body of UCD, the Governing Body of UCC, the Governing Body of UCG and the Board of Trinity College. There would also be one member nominated by the Minister for Education, one by the Minister for Agriculture, one by the staff of the comhairle, one by the staff of the institute and one by the Irish Veterinary Association. The latter is a new proposal because we are proposing in our other amendments to give this body responsibility in the area of preventive medicine, and if they are to have that responsibility we suggest representation from the Irish Veterinary Association who have the experience and the competence in the veterinary area that nobody else has. We propose that two members would be nominated by the General Council of Committees of Agriculture. This is an improvement so far as the county committees are concerned. We propose that the remaining members would be representative of the bodies concerned in providing education in the sphere of agriculture.
The board would have the same rules of procedure as those which apply to the present Agricultural Institute and as set out in the Schedule to the 1958 Act. Detailed provision is made in the amendment for staff representatives from both the institute and the comhairle. The final provision is that the chairman shall act as chairman both of the council of the institute and of the board and shall hold office on such terms and conditions as may be determined from time to time by the Minister.
I believe that the provisions proposed in this amendment could work provided there is the will to make them work. It is perfectly feasible for policy to be unified in one body and for execution to be separated into two bodies, namely, the institute and the comhairle. The Minister has gone a little way towards recognising our position because he is proposing that some members from the board of the institute be on the board of the comhairle and that some members from the board of the comhairle be on the board of the institute. Therefore, he is accepting that co-ordination at board level is the appropriate place to have co-ordination, because it is at board level that policy is determined.
The Minister is not saying that the boards must be entirely different and separate. This amendment is merely going a step further and proposing that the people of both boards meet in one room with one chairman to discuss advice and educational research but that the execution of the recommendations and decisions be left to separate institutions. In that way we should have the best of both worlds. We should have the independence in respect of research that the Minister requires so much—I have not attacked him for his convictions in this regard—and we would have also co-ordination at policy level. This is important in the national interest. I trust that the Minister will consider the amendment sympathetically in the light of the arguments I have put forward.