AGRICULTURAL ADVISORY COMMITTEES.

I beg to move:

That the Seanad requests the Executive Council to constitute at an early date Advisory Committees, composed in whole or in part of representatives from and nominated by the County Councils, for the purpose of co-operation with the Minister for Lands and Agriculture and the Minister for Education in the development and improvement of agricultural and technical instruction.

I wish to say at the outset that I did not introduce this motion for the purpose of criticising the Minister for Agriculture or finding fault in any way with him, but rather as a means to assist the Department. I think it is very necessary that we should give all the assistance possible to agriculture and industry in this country. I feel that the Minister for Agriculture should have the assistance of an Advisory Committee. I was a member of the old board from its inception to the very last, and I hold that the old Council and the Board of Agriculture did very useful work. I think the time has arrived when the Executive Council would be well advised to re-establish on somewhat similar lines the old Council of Agriculture, and to set up advisory boards in connection with it.

The Council of Agriculture was established on a very popular basis. The General Council of County Councils at that time were representing all Ireland. Unfortunately, to-day we do not represent the whole Irish nation, but I do not think that that is any reason why we should not establish a proper council of agriculture and also advisory boards. As it stood, the Council of Agriculture was arranged on a very popular basis. Each county council, after the Triennial Election, had a right to nominate two members of the Council of Agriculture, and the Government had a right to nominate a certain number. The council was composed of something like 102 members. Of these, 68 were elected by the county council, and 34 by the Government. When they assembled at their first meeting they formed themselves into provincial committees, and they proceeded to elect an advisory board of agriculture and also a board of technical education. The council had a right to nominate two members from each provincial council on the board of agriculture. The board of agriculture was made up of twelve members. Eight of these were nominated by the provincial committee of the county councils. That, to my mind, was a very representative and a very useful board, and I hold that it is very necessary that we should have a board constituted as this was, so as to advise the Minister for Agriculture in the Saorstát to-day. In other countries, like for instance, England, you will see there that the Council of Agriculture is a very important body. We all noticed that only yesterday, when a very important announcement had to be made, it was made before the Council of Agriculture. That was a statement dealing with foot-and-mouth disease. In a great number of agricultural countries you have a council of agriculture also. I think that the Department that is spending such a large amount of money should have the assistance of an advisory board. I read with great interest the statement made by the Minister for Agriculture last week. I think it was a very able statement. I noticed from that statement that the vote for agricultural purposes amounted to £421,000 odd. That is a considerable amount of money. I think that the Minister should have the advice of men who are in close touch with agriculture in this country to assist them.

I also notice that the overhead charges, salaries and travelling expenses, amounted to something like £125,000. That is a very large amount of money to spend in salaries, and I think it is a large amount of public money to be spent by any Department without any advice or assistance. I speak with a good deal of experience and I think that the country at present would have more confidence if the Minister for Agriculture took into his confidence expert advisers on agricultural interests all over the country rather than have all this money expended by paid officials. I think the time is ripe now for having advice and representation on such Boards. Another reason why I hold it is very necessary is that the question of tariffs is a very burning question at present, and on it there is a great division of opinion. Even the Executive Council are not agreed on whether it would be right or wrong that tariffs on agricultural produce in this country should be imposed. I think if we had a proper agricultural council and agricultural boards that would advise the Executive Council at present as to what would be the proper policy we might save an amount of trouble and unpleasantness in this country. At present we have one Minister in favour of applying tariffs to all agricultural products. We have another Minister up against it. That is not a happy state of affairs and it is quite possible when the election comes on that the country may be torn asunder on this question of tariffs. There again I hold that if we had a properly constituted commission in close touch with agricultural interests of this country it would be the best means of deciding what would be the proper course in the interest of agriculture.

A large amount of money was expended under the old Board of Agriculture on different interests all over the country. There again I feel an advisory board would be able to give great assistance on some very important matters. Take, for instance, afforestation.

The Minister for Agriculture made an important announcement on that question. I hold there is not sufficient attention paid to that particular branch of industry in this country. We all know that the country is stripped bare of timber. It will have a very serious effect in the near future, and I hold an amount of useful work could be done if we had an advisory Board to advise the Minister as to the proper course to be taken. We have also another very important matter, the question of drainage. A Drainage Act has been passed quite recently, but I hold that if the tenant farmers all over the country and the people interested in that drainage question have to wait until the Act removes all the difficulties it will not be in our lifetime. There again I feel if there were proper advice we could go a very long way to relieve, to a great extent, unemployment in this country by having useful work done in drainage and afforestation and by doing away, to a great extent, with the Bill. I think that the agricultural interests and the labour interests in this country should go hand in hand. When agriculture is prosperous labour should be prosperous. I think, with proper advice, we could go a long way towards having a great lot of employment under both heads. I have spoken of drainage and afforestation. There are many other matters in connection with agriculture in which I feel a Council of Agriculture and a Board of Agriculture would be very useful.

With regard to the educational and technical boards I think an Advisory Board would give great assistance. The technical board was constituted in the old regime of twenty-one members. A member was elected by the provisional council, a member by the borough council and a member nominated by the Government. I feel they did useful work. We had representatives on that council and on the boards in close touch with technical instruction and educational work and I think their advice was very useful. Surely we have men in this country capable of advising on agricultural matters on proper lines. I think it is a great reflection on the farming and agricultural industry that we have not a council of agriculture in the Saorstát. I remember that on one occasion when we were face to face with a scare, following an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, the Council of Agriculture was summoned and decided on very useful action. We have examples of the need for Advisory Councils.

The Minister for Local Government thought it necessary to appoint an Advisory Committee to report on the roads. If that was considered necessary in connection with roads I believe it is more important that there should be an Advisory Committee to deal with agriculture and technical instruction. I may be told that the appointment of such a committee would require legislation. Even so, I say it is necessary. An Advisory Committee such as that which was nominated for roads by the Department of Local Government would not be so useful or so representative as one nominated by elected representatives. A body like the old Council of Agriculture could deal with matters that have not received the attention they should receive. For instance in 1913 £10,000 was voted for the improvement of horse-breeding. I am afraid that that branch of agricultural work has not received the attention it should receive. A good deal could also be done to improve seeds, so that the tenant farmers of the Saorstát need not import them. In the Northern portion of the State we had an enormous crop of potatoes for which there was no sale, while in other portions of the State there was a scarcity. If we had an Advisory Board that could not happen. It would also be an advantage if an arrangement was made whereby seeds would be changed from one county to another or from one province to another. I appeal to the Seanad to support this motion and to advise the Executive Council and the Minister for Agriculture to seriously consider the re-establishment of a body somewhat similar to the old Council of Agriculture. If that body were re-established we would have Advisory Boards. If the Minister cannot see his way to do so, and if legislation is required, boards consisting of nominated members could be set up, composed of men who have expert knowledge of the agricultural industry and also technical education.

I second the motion. Every one agrees that the people of this country have to try, in every possible way, to put agriculture on a sound business basis, so as to meet the world-wide competition there is for our markets. Our cattle markets were disturbed last week by an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Scotland and in part of England. The result was that the export of store cattle was stopped. That is a great hindrance to business. Owing to the congested state of the Birkenhead market with Canadian cattle, the trade in Ireland was paralysed. The cattle trade is the staple industry of this country, and if it is injured the prosperity of the country is injured. Anything that concerns the prosperity of the country or that would stimulate employment should be the concern of the Government, who should seek advice on such matters from those in a position to give it. Everyone wishes to co-operate with the Minister in promoting industries connected with agriculture.

Senator Toal has put forward a motion which is mainly a plea for the re-establishment of the Council of Agriculture. No reference to that effect appears in the wording of the motion.

I desire to call attention to the fact that there is not a quorum present.

House counted, and a quorum being found present—

When I read the motion I felt that if it was carried the Advisory Committee that the Senator suggests would not do very much good nor very much harm. Later on, my opinion crystallised, and I now find myself in opposition to the proposal. Senator Toal asks that the county councils should nominate representatives who, in co-operation with the Minister for Lands and Agriculture, would concern themselves with the development and improvement of agriculture and technical instruction. The county councils have, already, very specific duties. They are charged with the administration of certain affairs in their own counties, and with acquiring the means to administer such affairs. The county councils have sufficient work to do. The complaint made by members of these councils is that they are not able to give the time and attention to these matters that they call for. Generally these are very estimable men, and are collectively carrying out the duties assigned to them with distinct credit. They are doing their job well, and we would like them to stick to it. It is rather a good principle to stick to your job and do it well. I do not think that the nomination of certain representatives to act on Advisory Committees with the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Education is one of the functions of these representatives. The abolition of the district council placed increased work on the county councils.

It is certain that the type of man you would have nominated to an Advisory Committee is not the type you would like to have there. More than likely a man of means and a man of leisure would be nominated who, for family reasons, wanted to get into quarters where he might have an axe to grind. The experience of these bodies has not been such as to commend itself to us. Certain Boards and Advisory Committees were set up. I was honoured by being asked to serve on one a few years ago. I have no recollection of an Advisory Board that performed one single useful function. On that body if we wished to function in a certain way we were told that we should make application in certain quarters. One of those associated with me did make application, and that application to perform some useful function was refused. None of the agencies referred to in the motion would secure for us any useful function. The words used were—"Should the Minister deem it expedient." Apparently the Minister did not deem it expedient in the case I mention. We were merely ornamental. Apparently, from the point of view of usefulness, we did not count. It is because I do not believe these committees can perform any useful function that I object to the motion. We are getting down to grim realities in this country now. It may be accepted that the Minister for Agriculture is perfectly prepared to face responsibility. He has his advisers, and he is responsible to the Dáil. The question of the re-establishment of what is parallel to the Council of Agriculture does not hold good now. There was no home Parliament in the days of that Council, but to-day the Minister has a seat in the Dáil. He is responsible to the Dáil and can secure advice there. The Dáil gives him authority, acts as a corrective and in the capacity of adviser. I am rather inclined to think that we have too many of these nebulous committees set up. There are too many organisations, boards, tribunals, committees, sub-committees, panels, outer panels, inner panels, and societies, and I do not know that we ought to add to their number. Although well-meaning, the proposal is an attempt to add just another one to the present ones. After all, to come back to a reference made in a debate yesterday, I think we have no time and have not much use for picturesque figures like high sheriffs and certain advisory bodies to-day. We have to face the grim reality of matter of fact things, and for that reason I think we should not appoint any more advisory committees.

I have always had the greatest respect for any proposal put forward by a gentleman of such ripe experience in public affairs as Senator Toal. I regret, therefore, to have to thoroughly disagree with him in this motion for the establishment of an Advisory Council and for the resurrection of the old Board of Agriculture. I think his action is prompted by a misconception of the position to-day. As Senator O'Hanlon says, we have now an Irish Parliament and all the moneys that Senator Toal referred to and the huge sums that appear upon the Estimates are voted by the Dáil after examination and criticism. It is the proper business of the Oireachtas, and particularly it is the business of the Dáil, but also of the Seanad, to criticise and examine the policy of the Department of Agriculture and its officials and to devote the moneys to whatever policy they approve. I am sure it is not the intention of Senator Toal, in moving this motion; but still the idea underlying this motion as to the establishment of special Agricultural Committees, would be to transfer the functions of the Dáil and the Seanad to the county councils, whose special qualifications to advise Ministers on agricultural matters and in matters of technical education are not very apparent.

Members of county councils are not elected on the ground of any special technical qualifications. They are elected to administer the affairs of public health, of roads, mental hospitals and other local matters. I would like to ask if they have made such a magnificent job of their work as to justify a further extension of their activities? No doubt, there are excellent men on the county councils, like Senator Toal himself, who do excellent work; but there are also some who do not. If one may judge by the Press reports, some of them seem to suffer from the delusion that they are statesmen and that they are capable of managing the affairs of the country much better than the men who are doing it to-day. Perhaps they could, but I have some doubts about it. Notwithstanding all the hard things we hear about the Ministers, I have grave doubts that the present policy of the Minister for Agriculture could be improved upon by those gentlemen. Senator Toal admitted that, by his statement in the Dáil the other day, the Minister for Agriculture gave excellent proof of his stewardship and of the efficiency of his Department, and it does not appear to me that he has any necessity for expert advice other than the expert advice that he is able to receive in his own Department.

With regard to the establishment of Advisory Committees, I understand the Minister has Advisory Committees in connection with live stock and, also, in connection with dairy produce. These bodies are carefully chosen for their technical knowledge. For instance, the Dairy Produce Advisory Committee includes representatives of the creameries managers, the butter-making industry, the live-stock and pedigree breeders, and representatives of agricultural societies, and farmers. They have special qualifications, and their advice in connection with administration is very useful. Besides these Advisory Committees, there are County Committees of Agriculture, set up by the county councils themselves, and they can be very useful by way of advice and co-operation, if they would only mind their business in that respect, which they do not always do. In this connection, I read an account of a meeting of an agricultural committee in the County Monaghan, presided over by Senator Toal in April last. But instead of contenting itself with agriculture, Monaghan County Committee soared into the realms of high finance, and one member of the council, who happens to be a member of the Dáil also, assumed the mantle of an amateur Minister for Finance, and introduced a Budget which proved to his own satisfaction, and apparently to the satisfaction of the committee, that he could save £2,000,000 a year by a cut of 10 per cent. on the salaries of civil servants, although the total cost of the Civil Service is only £3,750,000. That is the kind of nonsense talked at these agricultural committees. We do not see any reason for extending the activities of these committees. We are invited by the motion to say that the advisory committees to be nominated by these agricultural committees and county councils are much more competent to discuss matters appertaining to agricultural and technical education than members of the Dáil and Seanad. If that is so, the sooner we resign and hand over representation in the Dáil and Seanad to members of the local bodies the better. I think there is enough of muddle-headed talk and muddle-headed thinking in the country without adding to the confusion by letting councils loose on technical and agricultural education.

CATHAOIRLEACH

Perhaps in view of the small attendance in the House Senator Toal will be satisfied with the discussion on his motion, and not press it to a division?

I would like to remove the impression that I wish to extend the powers of the agricultural committees. Nothing of the sort; I think they have quite enough to do to mind their own business. What I was trying to explain was that they and the county councils should be allowed to nominate two members of each body to form the council of agriculture. That is quite a different thing. I am afraid the tendency of efforts now is to give the whole power into the hands of Ministers and Commissioners. I feel that there is quite enough of honesty, and quite enough of common-sense and ability in this country to do our work without leaving the whole power in the hands of either Ministers or Commissioners. I think Senator O'Hanlon has also taken a wrong impression as to what I was anxious to do. Senator O'Hanlon and other speakers said there was no useful purpose to be served by an advisory committee.

The Minister for Local Government paid a great tribute to an Advisory Committee that he had appointed and I would be quite satisfied if the Minister for Agriculture nominated practical men from different parts of the country who would advise him because I hold, notwithstanding Senator O'Hanlon's knowledge of agriculture, that there is always a necessity for having an advisory committee in dealing with so important a question as agriculture. It is not a right thing to appoint emergency committees on every occasion on which important matters turn up. I hold that dealing with such an important matter as agriculture the Ministry should have an Advisory Committee of competent men whom he can summon to meet on occasion, and who would be always at hand to give him advice. I had no idea at all that I was going to give extended powers to agricultural committees. I thank you, Chathaoirligh, very sincerely, for allowing me to place this motion on the agenda and for the very careful hearing you have given me. I am quite satisfied. I was rather unfortunate in the time at which it came on. However, it has got consideration now and I am satisfied to allow it to remain.

I hope Senator Toal will not think that I misinterpreted the purpose of his motion. He states that what he intended was to set up an Advisory Committee to the Minister. That is not at all what is covered in his motion.

I think it is quite open to that interpretation. I was quite satisfied, even if the Minister himself appointed the Advisory Committee.

CATHAOIRLEACH

You left it quite open to amendment.

I do not want Senator O'Hanlon to walk away with that impression and broadcast it.

CATHAOIRLEACH

I would not fall foul of Senator O'Hanlon, if I were you.

Motion by leave withdrawn.