When I addressed the House on 11 May 1994 on the subject of the Report of the Expert Group on the Food Industry I indicated that the Bill to establish An Bord Bia had just been introduced to the Dáil and that I hoped to bring it before the Seanad very quickly. I now have great pleasure in doing that.
The Bill stems from one of the two central recommendations made by the Expert Group. This was that a new single food promotion and market development agency should be formed by amalgamating CBF and the corresponding units of similar agencies dealing with other sectors of the food industry. The Expert Group's other main recommendation was that an integrated development programme for the food industry should be established under the new round of EU Structural Funds. As I have already advised the House, this is being done.
Before dealing with the provisions of the Bill I should like to remind the House that the Expert Group on the Food Industry dealt in some detail with the institutional framework within which the industry operates and made several recommendations for improvements in that area. However, it took the view that, by and large, those improvements could be implemented administratively.
Consequently the Bill focuses on one element only of the institutional framework, that of promotion and market development. This is, however, as the House will agree, an element of vital importance. Our food industry has been making rapid progress but in the context of CAP reform and of the GATT agreement it faces major competition and challenges. The Government is determined to provide properly focused State agency back-up for the industry in its efforts to develop and expand markets, particularly in Europe. An Bord Bia is the instrument designed to achieve this.
In summary, the Bill proposes in the first instance to combine CBF and the food unit of ABT, and to include certain export promotion functions of An Bord Glas. Provision is also made for the possible inclusion of other relevant agencies' food functions as and when appropriate.
In the drafting of this legislation, particular care has been taken to maintain the structures, mechanisms and market information systems that have worked well in CBF. In this connection it will be noted that a subsidiary board for meat and livestock is specifically provided for. I do not envisage additional Exchequer expenditure arising from the legislation.
With regard to the text itself, part 1 contains, in sections 1 to 5, fairly standard provisions relating to the short title, interpretation of the main terms used, the making of ministerial orders and provision for expenses incurred in administering the Act, to be met from voted moneys.
Part II of the Bill deals with a range of matters relating to the establishment, organisation, procedures and functions of the new agency. Section 6 provides for the establishment of the agency and for the dissolution of CBF on the establishment day to be fixed. Of course, this does not mean that any of CBF's current functions will be abandoned or lost sight of. On the contrary, it is intended that these functions will be strengthened and extended to other sectors of the food industry.
Section 7 sets out the general functions of the board while more specific functions are contained in section 8. The specific functions which are without prejudice to the generality of section 7, and, therefore, non-exhaustive, cover the whole range of activities appropriate to the type of agency envisaged. These include promotion, market intelligence, market development, symposia, publications and quality assurance.
Section 9 provides for the transfer of certain functions of An Bord Glas to the new agency. An Bord Glas itself will remain in place; only those of its functions that relate to the export marketing of edible horticultural products are being transferred. The remit which An Bord Glas has in relation to the home market is much wider than that proposed for An Bord Bia. It also has substantial functions in regard to non-edible horticultural products such as nursery stock. Those activities will not be transferred.
In the same section, there is provision for the assignment to An Bord Bia, at a later stage, of other functions related to food marketing. This would cover, for instance, the case where, following the review of BIM's functions, currently in progress, it might be decided to transfer to An Bord Bia responsibility for fish as a food. This power could be exercised only with the consent of other Ministers responsible for bodies from which the transfer of functions might be proposed, and with the specific consent of the Oireachtas.
Section 10 allows for assignment of additional functions to the new agency where these are incidental to or consequential on the functions assigned by the Bill.
Section 11 requires An Bord Bia to act in co-operation with other bodies that have functions relevant to its own. What is intended here is that close and effective co-operation will be maintained between An Bord Bia and An Bord Tráchtála, especially with regard to the use of facilities abroad and, indeed, with An Bord Glas and BIM.
Section 12 empowers the new agency to charge for its services. The intention is that fees under this section will be charged for services provided to those sectors which do not contribute to the new agency by way of levy. It is not intended that the section should operate as a means of applying a double levy system. The level of fees to be charged would be drawn up by the board but subject always to ministerial approval. While, obviously, the level of fees should not be exorbitant or act as a deterrent, at the same time I would expect them to make a substantial contribution to An Bord Bia's budget. I should mention here also that I expect the board to benefit substantially from EU funding to be provided under the Structural Fund Food Sub-Programme.
Section 13 imposes on the board the obligation to set up a subsidiary board for meat and livestock which would maintain and continue the current functions and focus of CBF. It also empowers the board to set up, with ministerial consent or on ministerial direction, subsidiary boards for other sectors. As my colleague the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, already indicated in the Dáil, in view of the emphasis which the expert group on the food industry placed on the prepared consumer foods sector and the very specific recommendations which it made in the context of the establishment of the new agency, it is expected that the board will move very quickly to set up a subsidiary board for that sector. It is also intended that levies collected from particular sectors, for instance those of meat and livestock, should be used for the benefit of those sectors. Subsections (1) and (5), together with the right of the Minister to specify conditions under subsection (3), will allow that procedure to be observed.
Sections 14, 15 and 16 deal with the appointment and terms of office of the chairman and members of the board and subsidiary boards. The essential qualification for membership is that the persons to be appointed should, in the case of the main board, have knowledge or experience of the food industry and, in the case of a subsidiary board, of the particular sector for which it is being established, but with all appointees being required to have knowledge of the consumer requirements. The appointments to the main board will be made by the Minister and those to the subsidiary boards by the board. The provisions in relation to the meat and livestock subsidiary board mirror those currently applying in CBF. In that way the aim of preserving in the meat sector the focus and producer links that have worked well in CBF will be achieved. Those provisions also take account of the important CBF levy arrangements that will be carried into An Bord Bia, and of the representational pattern which that implies. To ensure effective links between the main board and the subsidiaries, the chairmen of the subsidiary boards will be appointed from the membership of the main board.
Sections 17 to 20, inclusive, deal with a number of matters common to the board and the subsidiary boards such as eligibility of outgoing members for reappointment, conditions of office, casual vacancies and remuneration. Remuneration and allowances for expenses will require the consent of the Minister for Finance.
Sections 21 and 22 cover accounts, audits and annual reports as well as the supply of any information about performance of the functions of the board and of the subsidiary boards that the Minister may require. Section 23 allows the board to borrow money but only with the consent of the Minister and of the Minister for Finance. Section 24 lays down some framework provisions as regards meetings and procedure within which the board, or a subsidiary board, will be free to determine its more detailed procedures. Section 25 contains stringent provisions to guard against conflicts of interest on the part of members of the board or of a subsidiary board or of the staff of the agency. Section 26 will prevent incorrect disclosure of information by any of those persons. Section 27 allows investment of funds by the board in the manner of a trustee.
Section 28 provides for setting up committees to assist and advise the board or a subsidiary board. This is similar to the existing committee system employed by CBF and which has proved useful and effective in practice.
Under section 29, the board and the subsidiary boards are required to comply with any ministerial policy directives. This is a standard provision for bodies of this kind but one which I would not envisage being used to any significant extent. This Bill sets a clear framework for the board and it should be allowed to operate freely within that framework. Thus the power under this section would be used only for necessary policy directives.
Section 30 empowers the board to accept gifts but only if any trusts or conditions attached would not be inconsistent with the board's functions.