I move amendment No. 11:
In subsection (1) to delete all words from and including "may" where it secondly occurs in line 30 to the end of the subsection and substitute "shall grant a licence authorising the carrying on of the business of a livestock mart at that place provided the applicant complies with regulations made by the Minister".
I am glad the temperature of this debate has gone down before we start on these amendments because I was hoping that we would approach the matter in a more reasonable mind. I am moving amendment No. 11 and discussing with it some other amendments, as you said—15, 17, 18, 19 and 22. These are mainly the amendments put down by the Labour Party Senators, some of which have been supported by some of the Fine Gael Senators. The support is welcome, I suppose.
We are dealing here with a Bill as described in its Title:
An Act to provide for the control and regulation by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries of livestock marts and the sale of livestock at such marts...
The point I want to make is that it is "for the control and regulation by the Minister". This is what the Bill sets out to provide. The Bill has been given a Second Reading by the Seanad. So, taking that situation, that the Seanad has agreed that the Minister should regulate livestock marts, we are accepting that as the case and what we are doing is saying: "Right; if these must be regulated, and the Seanad has agreed that they should be regulated, they should be regulated in such a way that there will be a fair measurement given to all the marts and all people who propose in future to set up the business of cattle marts."
I want to direct the attention of the Seanad to the wording of section 3 and the other sections which it is proposed to amend by the other amendments we are discussing simultaneously. It will be seen that in section 3 we are providing that "the Minister may at his discretion, grant or refuse to grant a licence authorising the carrying on of the business of a livestock mart at that place." Subsection (2) says:
The Minister may, at the time of the granting of a licence, attach to the licence such conditions as he shall think proper and shall specify in the licence.
Subsection (3) says:
The Minister may, if he so thinks fit, amend or revoke a condition attached to a licence.
Subsection (5) says:
Where the holder of a licence is guilty of any offence under this Act, the Minister may, if he so thinks fit, revoke the licence.
The Minister was making great play with precedents for this Ministerial authority, and he was mentioning, in particular, the Creamery Act, 1928, where this wording seems to have originated. In section 14 of that Act, we find the same sort of situation:
(1) It shall not be lawful for any person after the expiration of one month from the passing of this Act to maintain a creamery to which this section applies unless such person is authorised so to do by licence granted by the Minister under this section.
(2) The Minister may, if he so thinks fit——
There is a familiar ring about those words.
——grant to any person a licence to maintain a specified creamery to which this section applies subject to such (if any) conditions as the Minister shall specify in such licence.
This is the wording which is brought into this Bill that we now have before us, and the Minister, incidentally, is justifying asking for all this power and all this authority by reason of precedents which exist in previous Acts, and the first of those he mentioned was the 1928 Act. I suppose when you come to draft any Bill you look back and see what wording was used previously and this sort of thing carries on from Act to Act. However, in the same section I was reading from, section 14 of the 1928 Act, there is a further subsection, subsection (4):
This section applies to any creamery which, on or after the 1st day of January, 1928, and before the passing of this Act, either was opened for the first time for the carrying on of creamery business therein or was re-opened for the carrying on of creamery business after a period during which such business was not carried on therein and also applies to any creamery the business of which was, on or after the 1st day of January, 1928, and before the passing of this Act, extended by the addition thereto of a class, branch, or department of creamery business not then carried on in such creamery.
These very exceptional powers which were written into an Act in 1928 were in relation to a limited period and in respect of creameries which were set up or acquired in the interval between 1st January of that year and the passing of the Creamery Act, 1928. When we look at the Creamery Act of that year and the purpose of it, we shall understand why it was necessary to take these special powers, because the Title of that Act reads:
An Act to make provision for the more effective regulation and control in certain respects of the dairying industry and persons and co-operative societies engaged therein with a view to the better re-organisation of that industry and for other matters connected with such reorganisation.
It was an Act to provide for the rationalisation of the creamery industry and, judging by the Schedules to that Act, it was something which was asked for by the creamery industry generally. In the First Schedule there is mention of the fact that:
...WHEREAS in the year 1926 the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, Limited, with a view to aiding the Dairying Industry in Ireland, opened negotiations for the acquisition of the business and undertakings of the Condensed Milk Company of Ireland (1924), Limited, and of the Newmarket Dairy Company, Limited, to the end that redundant creameries might be eliminated with resultant benefit to the Dairying Industry...
Redundant creameries were, apparently, being eliminated, and it was quite understandable that, in the interval between the legislation being talked of and its final enactment, get-rich-quick smart chaps who acquired a creamery or proceeded to set up a creamery in order to get compensation or to get bought over, should be prevented from doing so. That is quite clearly the reason why these very special powers were taken in the 1928 Act where in section 14 it was provided, as I said, that the Minister may grant a licence and may attach a condition to such a licence. That only applied in very special circumstances and, quite obviously, to a very limited group, to people who, in the interval between the intention to rationalise the creamery industry and the final enactment of the legislation, might try to step in and get money by way of compensation by being acquired as a redundant creamery.
The Minister made great play of that. I have not had a chance of checking on the other Acts he mentioned but it is important that we should look at the first one where this type of wording originated. It originated in the 1928 Creamery Act and I am making the point that it related to a specific problem and I suggest we would all have agreed, if we were there in 1928, that it was the proper way of dealing with that problem at that time.
However, that is not the problem we are dealing with in regard to livestock marts. There is no question of rationalising them, of abolishing or removing redundant marts, there are no special funds involved. I accept it is desirable we should regulate the conduct of these marts and that there should be proper standards of hygiene. Marts deal with a very important industry and I accept it is quite right that they should deal with all customers equally and should not attempt to boycott certain individuals who might not agree with the majority at any time in any place. That would be wrong and the Minister is right in stepping in if that has occurred and saying: "We shall have to regulate the conduct of the livestock marts and I must take the necessary authority to enable me to do so".
We in the Labour Party accept that and we agree to give the Minister this power. On Second Reading, what we said was: "It is not desirable we should go ahead at this time because of the possibility of further worsening relations with the farming community". We thought that was more important than the necessity or desirability of regulating the conduct of the business of livestock marts. Our amendment on Second Reading was defeated.
We are now dealing with the Committee Stage and what we are saying very generally in our amendments is that the Minister should make regulations, that anybody who complies with them should be thereby empowered to set up the business of a livestock mart. There should be rules and they should apply to everybody equally: it should not be the case, as provided for in the Bill, that the Minister may at his discretion grant a licence and that he may, again at his discretion, attach any conditions to a licence and, in a later subsection, that he may vary the conditions, revoke the conditions.
We suggest he is thereby taking too much power. He would not be seen to deal equally with all the people involved because he could attach one condition to one mart and another condition to a neighbouring mart. We say that is wrong. We say there should be proper standards of hygiene, as is envisaged in later sections of the Bill, but we say these standards should attach to all marts equally and that the Minister should not be in a position to discriminate against certain people because he may not like them, because they may irritate him or because they may not have the proper political pull.
I do not think it is any insult to anybody in the sort of society in which we live, with political Parties, to suggest that political pull is relevant and effective. Of course, it is. We all know that and accept it as a fact of life. Many of us regret it but there it is. If you can use sufficient influence you can get more consideration than the person who has not the same sort of political influence. The Minister, being a good politician himself, will not take umbrage at the suggestion that that is a fact of life in Ireland today. One of his colleagues, I think it was the Minister for Education, made the remark about some being more equal than others.
That is what we in the Labour Party want to avoid in relation to the business of livestock marts. We say it is right and proper that they should be regulated in the interests of the very important industries in which they are engaged, particularly in the interests of the farmers, their customers. We say there should not be any discrimination against one farmer by the operators of a mart, but we emphasise that the conditions should be equal and that the Minister should not appear to discriminate or be put in the temptation of discriminating between one mart operator and another.
That is why, in amendment No. 11, we provide not that the Minister may grant a licence but that the Minister shall grant a licence authorising the carrying on of the business of a livestock mart, provided the applicant complies with regulations made by the Minister. That is the main burden of these amendments: we are trying to take out this freedom, if that is the proper expression, to discriminate between one mart operator and another. We want to provide that the Minister shall make regulations. We are giving him the authority to say what are the minimum requirements in regard to marts and then, providing that anybody, whatever his colour, religion, political affiliations, comes up to the minimum requirements laid down by the Minister and wants to engage in the business of a livestock mart, he must be given a licence to do so.
The Minister may argue that we shall have the situation then in which there may be too many livestock marts. This Bill does not set out to deal with that problem at all. We are not dealing with the problem of redundant cattle marts. Nobody has suggested there are too many. They are a commercial business and if anybody bites off more than he can chew, if he thinks he can put another out of business, that is all right. We accept that position and the Minister does not pretend he wants to deal with that problem. What he is doing here is seeking authority to make regulations and to apply these regulations and conditions at his sole discretion to different operators.
It is useless for the Minister or anybody else to say: "I would not do that. I will not discriminate. I will apply the regulations equally all round." What I am saying is that we should not give him authority to discriminate. We are dealing with an important piece of legislation and I hope I shall get the support of many Senators to ensure that regulations, once made by the Minister, will apply to all equally so that we shall not have a situation in which the Minister may make an exception of one particular man, letting him get a licence even though he does not come up to the regulations, and on the contrary attaching a condition to one licence which might be onerous and which might not attach to a competitor. We suggest that is wrong and that it should not be allowed in legislation.
Let me come to another aspect of this section, if I may deal with it on this amendment. In one of our amendments we propose to delete subsection (6) of section 3. Senators may wonder why. That becomes redundant if we accept the principle I have been advocating of having minimum conditions and applying them to all equally so that anybody who complies with these minimum conditions must get a licence and anybody who does not cannot be given a licence. If that were so, there would be no question of providing for the type of appeal mentioned in subsection (6) of section 3. That point has already been made and I need not labour it now.
In regard to the barrister who is asked to make a report to the Minister, there is no provision that his inquiry will be published, and there is no provision that the report he makes to the Minister will be published, or even given to the person who applies. I may be wrong in that last part. The person who conducts the inquiry reports to the Minister, and the Minister can suppress the report, and take no account of it. He is not bound to act on it, or accept it. The person simply reports to the Minister and that is as far as this legislation goes.
Let us go back to paragraph (b) of section 3:
Whenever the Minister proposes to revoke a licence because of a contravention of regulations under section 6 of this Act prescribing any matter specified in paragraphs (e) to (i) of section 6 (2) of this Act...
It is (e) to (i). What about (a) to (d)? These are exempt. It seems to me that these are the ones which might be subjected to an inquiry or examination because (e) to (i) deal with physical requirements as to the design, maintenance, repair, cleaning and accommodation. Further on there is something about hygienic and veterinary requirements, but these seem to be matters which are factual. Either they are correct or they are not, and the person whose licence is threatened with revocation can readily prove whether he has kept in line with the requirements laid down by the Minister. Paragraphs (a) to (d) are the ones on which there might be some doubt, and on which a legal mind might conduct an inquiry.
For example paragraph (b) provides:
——that entries for such auctions shall not be refused except in circumstances prescribed in the regulations,
In other words, there is the discrimination I was talking about earlier between one farmer and another, between one customer and another. It appears to me that this is a matter about which doubt might exist. There might be a difference of opinion as to whether or not discrimination was exercised, and a particular farmer might feel he was discriminated against. There might be a conflict of evidence and opinion on this and if there were to be an appeal I would have thought it was on this sort of aspect that the appeal would lie, and not upon the physical things in a livestock mart.
The Minister has very deliberately kept paragraphs (a) to (b) from going to appeal and, again, he is keeping the sole discretion and authority to himself in a matter which might involve a dispute between a farmer and an operator of a mart, on whether in fact there was discrimination, whether a bid was properly taken, and different things like that. The Minister clearly is keeping the right to himself to make a judgment and to revoke or not to revoke the licence of a mart operator.
We are saying: "Look; accept our amendment. Lay down that minimum regulations are necessary and give the right to anyone who complies with these minimum regulations to be given a licence or to retain a licence", and this section which I think is redundant anyway—it is not a very good section—would not be necessary. A number of amendments are being discussed in conjunction with this amendment. I am advocating to the Minister and to Fianna Fáil Senators that they should take this matter out of the rather political atmosphere in which it has been up to now. As some of my colleagues said earlier, we feel that Fine Gael are afraid of their lives that the Minister might make some concession in the Bill—afraid of their lives.