Dáil Éireann - Volume 307 - 15 June, 1978
Agricultural Produce (Meat) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1978: Report Stage (Resumed) .
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
In page 2, after line 46, to insert the following:—
 “(4) The supplier of the animal or animals, or an agent appointed by him, shall have the right to be present while the carcases of his animals are being classified. This provision shall not apply to the classification of individual cuts of meat but only to the classification of whole carcases.”.
Mr. D'Arcy Mr. D'Arcy
Mr. D'Arcy: I find it hard to understand why a provision such as proposed by Deputy Bruton was not included in the Bill. Deputy Bruton has made a reasonable request in order to protect the producers of beef when selling that beef to the factories. We do not describe classification as something new because we have had grading up to now but it is something new to many farmers. I understand that the Department will put into the factories the people who will classify this beef and that is something very new. It is a question of selling the scheme to the farmers. Deputy Bruton made the case that farmers should be encouraged to have their cattle processed here. That is important because of the labour involved in processing meat in our factories instead of sending them out on the hoof. So there is a question of selling this idea to the farming community, which is very important.
From time to time standards change. No matter how rigid the guidelines are there is no doubt that classification of our beef will change. We have experience of an over-supplied market that always changes standards. Whether we have too little or too much to supply to the factory, standards will automatically change and I am sure the Minister realises that as well as I do.
A point was raised in relation to the educational value to the farmer of being allowed to see his beef being classified in the factory. I believe that the majority of farmers would be able to identify their own beasts by weight. I am talking about the farmers who supply 20 to 25 cattle to the factory. We hear a great deal these days about the different continental breeds of cattle but I believe that our breeds are as good as theirs. Five new breeds have already been introduced here but  judging from the classification of these breeds our own white-heads and Friesians are as good as these other breeds, particularly for beef.
Our legislation should consider the rights of farmers and the protection of their interests. One farmer will often say to another “How did your cattle kill out?”. If a farmer walks into a factory he should have the right to see how his cattle weigh and how they are graded. If this amendment is not accepted the farmer will not have that right. Cattle were in plentiful supply in 1975-76 and we had the bitter experience of suppliers being badly treated by the factories during that time. We should legislate on behalf of the farmers because they require protection. If the Bill is passed without this provision the factories will be able to stop farmers from inspecting the classification of their beef. Heretofore we had the right by agreement. When I sell cattle to a factory I inquire when they are being slaughtered and try to be there at that time. Has the Minister considered that we are actually taking a right from farmers by allowing the factories to refuse entry?
The Department's inspectors are taking an active part in the classification of cattle. The farmer sending his cattle to the factory believes all his beasts are grade A beasts. If the farmer is not given the right to watch the classification of his beasts, the Department's inspectors will be blamed for every beast that is turned down by a factory. It would be far better to allow the farmer access to the factory floor so that the inspector could tell him the reasons for classification rather than having him wait a week for that information. It is also essential to protect the Department's inspectors and this could be done by allowing farmers on to factory floors. By not giving the farmers that right the Minister is exposing his officials to all types of accusations.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture (Mr. Hussey) Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture (Mr. Hussey)
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture (Mr. Hussey): I agree with Deputies Bruton and D'Arcy that selling the idea of classification to the farmers is very important. I do not accept that the system of promoting  it, as outlined by Deputies Bruton and D'Arcy is the right way to go about it. This Bill is not taking from farmers the right to inspect their cattle as they are being classified.
In regard to Deputy Bruton's amendment, the inclusion of agents contradicts the very argument he put forward, that the farmer should see for himself classification of his animals. On Committee Stage, I indicated that I could not accept amendment No. 1 relating to section 2 of the Bill. After further considering the matter I am still of the same view. If the amendment were accepted and if every supplier of cattle and other animals to meat factories were to exercise the right given in the amendment, it is my opinion that the smooth flow of operations at the factories could be seriously disrupted. Some factories might be able to organise their work in such a way that disruption would not occur. If those factories volunteered to allow inspection by the sellers, or the agents of the sellers, of the animals then I would raise no objection. I am also confident that the staff of my Department who carry out the classification work would not raise any objection either because the classification scheme depends for its success on the acceptance of all concerned that the classification is done in an objective and impartial manner.
The factories are private property. For that reason it would be legally undesirable to give a right of entry to a third party. This point should be borne in mind when we are discussing this amendment. Entry could only be a matter of agreement between the factory owners and the sellers of the animals. If there is agreement between them, then neither I nor anybody from my Department would have any objection. I know of no area of agricultural processing where the seller of agricultural produce has a statutory right of entry to private property. For that reason we must accept that we cannot give a statutory right to those people to enter private property such as most of these factories are. For that reason I cannot accept this amendment.
Mr. Bruton Mr. Bruton
 Mr. Bruton: Perhaps I should deal with the arguments put forward by the Minister against the proposal I have been making. His argument really has two legs. The first leg is that of the adoption of the proposal in question would interfere with the smooth flow of the operation of factories. The second leg is one based on private property and precedent in relation to it. As far as the smooth flow is concerned, the Minister's argument is of little substance because the number of farmers who would exercise the right would not be that great. Many farmers would have somebody else, an agent, a lorryman or some such person, bringing in their cattle for them. They would not necessarily exercise the right if they did not go in specially. Also probably the interval of time between the animals arriving at the factory and their slaughter would be a half-an-hour. The farmer would not necessarily be on the premises while the animals were being slaughtered. He would be entitled to be on the premises only for the time they were being classified and in the area in which they were being classified. As my amendment foresees it, he would not be entitled to walk all over the place, to go to all parts of the factory, but merely entitled to enter that part of the factory where the actual classification was taking place and only for the duration of classification of his own animals. Once that was over and done with, he would leave.
As I said in introducing this amendment, usually there would be probably no more than one or two farmers' animals being classified in a particular place at a given time. Therefore, there would be no question of large numbers of farmers hanging around in factories—an image the Minister sought, by implication, to conjure up. It would be one farmer or two at the most, present with the man who was doing the classification. The farmer or farmers would see him do it and he would be there to explain to them why a particular classification was given to a particular animal. All that would be necessary for most farmers would be that this right would be (a) there  and, (b), that they would exercise it once. If they went in once and saw— having listened to the man who was classifying their animals explain why particular classifications were applied to particular animals—they would then be confident that the scheme was being operated fairly. If, at any future date, farmers felt it was not being done fairly they would have the option of going into the factory to check up on what was being done. That would be sufficient. It would not be necessary, nor indeed perhaps would it be desirable, for all farmers to go in all the time with all their cattle unless they wanted to go in for other reasons. But the exercise of the right, the fact that it had been exercised once, that farmers had seen that justice was being done and was being seen to be done would be sufficient to achieve what we, on all sides of the House, wish to achieve, namely, the success of this scheme based on farmer confidence.
The other point mentioned by the Minister was in relation to private property. I have no wish to get involved in an obtuse argument with the Minister in relation to private property and such matters. But we all accept that, while there may not be a precedent in agricultural processing, there are precedents in other forms of businesses for people entering people's premises in order to carry on business and being entitled so to do. Indeed business would be rendered impossible if people could not enter other people's premises. As Deputy D'Arcy pointed out, most factories already grant this right by agreement. Therefore, there is no question of their doing something unusual or being asked to accept a right which is unusual, unjust, or to do something they are not prepared already voluntarily to do in most cases.
Furthermore, it can be argued that our proposal confers a right on farmers —if you like, one which involves a corresponding obligation on the part of owners of meat factories, but it is a quid pro quo—because, when this classification scheme was originally mooted, the idea was that a substantial part of the cost would be levied through the meat processors. In order to get the  scheme going that proposal was abandoned by the present Minister. He said that the taxpayer would pay the cost of the scheme and that the meat factories would not have to bear the cost. In return, for something which is clearly of benefit to meat processors— namely, the classification of meat by which they earn their living from exporting—at the expense of the taxpayer it is not unreasonable that they should give something which is beneficial to a large section of taxpayers, namely, the farming community, who are their customers.
Those are my comments on the arguments put forward by the Minister. He did not deal with many of the points I made. I should like to say clearly that this scheme we are introducing is a very complex one. It is a classification scheme involving not merely grading but the classification of animals into categories in relation to two factors— confirmation, the shape of the animal, on the one hand, and fat level on the other. There are seven classes of confirmation and six classes of fat level. There will be a total of 42 different classifications of animals, if I am not mistaken, under this scheme and farmers will be asked to accept that they should be in one of the 42 rather than another of the 42 different classifications. If we want farmers to understand and accept something that is as complex as that, I contend it is important that they see what is happening for themselves. We all know from the experience of the agricultural advisory service that the way to get a message across to farmers is not to send them a sheaf of papers; it is not to invite them to listen to a lecture with slides; it is to demonstrate something to them, to bring them to a farm where a particular method of operation is being applied, letting them see it for themselves on the ground. That is the way to get the message across.
If we go along the way upon which the Minister is apparently intent on going, that is, relying on exhibitions at the RDS and handing out leaflets to the farmer without giving him the right to go in and see his own cattle being classified, we will not succeed  in getting across to the farming community the message of the classification scheme. This must be done if the scheme is to be successful. The whole idea of the scheme is to ensure that the type of animal being produced reflects demand in the market place and that as many animals as possible are produced by good breeding and husbandry to be in the top grades of the classification scheme. That will be far better achieved if farmers can see for themselves what this scheme means in practice and why their animals may be graded in the No. 3 or No. 4 class instead of the No. 1 class.
We must also bear in mind that the processing of meat in factories is in competition with the live trade. The live trade is mostly carried on by animals being bought in the marts by dealers and exported live on ships. If a farmer sends his cattle to the mart and he does not like the price he is offered, he can withdraw them. If he sends his animals to the factory and they are slaughtered and subsequently if the price worked out on the way the animal is killed out does not please him, there is no way he can bring his animals home again. He must accept the price. Clearly the farmer who has doubts will prefer the mart to the factory unless we give him sufficient safeguards, such as the ability to see his animals being classified so that he can be satisfied that there are no grounds for any doubts he might have as to the price he is getting and the basis on which it rests.
We must encourage farmers to send animals to factories rather than abroad on ships so that the maximum amount of employment can be obtained in the meat processing industry. I believe that my amendment will contribute in no small way to encouraging farmers to accept this classification scheme, to act upon it in the breeding of their animals and to send their cattle to the factories and give employment throughout the country.
I feel that the Minister should accept this amendment. It is carefully drafted so as not to create unnecessary hardship for anyone, and I do  not believe that it would cause any problems if incorporated in this Bill. Upon reconsideration and having heard the arguments I have put forward, I hope that the Minister will accept it.
Amendment put and declared lost.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Sean Browne
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Amendment Nos. 2 and 3 are related and may be discussed together.
Mr. Bruton Mr. Bruton
Mr. Bruton: I move amendment No. 2:
In page 2, after line 46, to insert the following:
“(5) Where regulations are proposed to be made under subsection (1) of this section a draft of the regulations shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the regulations shall not be made until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each such House.”.
In these amendments I am proposing that where regulations are being made under this legislation a draft of the regulations should be laid before this House, that the Minister should be required to come into the House and justify the regulations and not until they have been accepted would the regulations come into effect. The situation as it stands without this amendment is that the Minister will be required to lay the regulations on the table of the House, that is, to put them in the Library, their title being appended to the Order Paper on a particular day, and if within 21 days of the regulations having been laid on the table of the House in that way any Member of the House wishes to annual them, to completely reject and throw them out in their entirety, he may do so.
There are a number of reasons why I believe the procedure I am proposing is preferable. I will deal, first, with the merits of the proposal I am putting forward in this context and, secondly, with the disadvantages—and they are considerable and made more considerable by events in this House this week—of the procedure which exists in the Bill as it stands. The advantage of this proposal is that the  beef classification scheme is one of the most important developments in agriculture in this country for some time. It is a very complex scheme. I have demonstrated in discussions at an earlier stage in this debate that it has potential defects in that it does not correspond closely with the scheme adopted in the continental countries to which we will be exporting our animals and therefore the divergences between our scheme and the scheme on the continent act as a negative selling point so far as our cattle are concerned. If our scheme were the same as that operated in France, a French buyer would understand our scheme far more readily than he would if our scheme went ahead as at present proposed, namely, on an entirely different basis with a larger number of classes which do not correspond at all with classes adopted in the European or French scheme.
I contend that there are a lot of things to be talked about in relation to this scheme. There are a lot of arguments to be put forward and justifications to be made which have not been made in this House, nor could the Minister make such justifications for the scheme being put forward because that scheme does not exist. The Minister has put forward ideas to various bodies in the trade; there have been exhibitions in the RDS and elsewhere about the scheme that is envisaged, but no scheme has been put on the table of this House on which we could comment while we are being asked to give enabling powers to the Minister to make that scheme a regulation making it the law of the land. We have not seen it and therefore we could not comment on it during the course of this debate. My contention is that the only hope we would have of commenting on this important development would be if the Minister is required, when he exercises the powers under this scheme to bring in a regulation incorporating a classification scheme, to come back to this House with the specific scheme and justify it. The Minister would not have anything to fear in coming back to this House and justifying the scheme upon which he finally decides.
 I further argue that one of the important ingredients of the scheme is public understanding of it and that a debate on the scheme in this House and a subsequent debate in the Seanad in which Members of this House, if they find the scheme satisfactory, would be able to explain it and declare their agreement, would give good publicity to such a scheme and make it more widely known to the public than it would be if merely promulgated as a regulation without any discussion in this House. I contend that those two clear merits, namely, the need for further discussion of the proposals which the Minister has in mind, and the advantage of publicity for the scheme anyway, are strong arguments in favour of the adoption of the proposals I am putting forward in amendments Nos. 2 and 3.
The arguments against the Minister's point of view on this issue, if he adopts the point of view of not allowing these amendments and adhering to the Bill as it stands, are quite significant. First, it requires that Deputies read all the regulations laid before the House, study them, find something wrong with them and put down a motion to annual them before there is any discussion. A motion to annul is necessary. We might wish to express our views on a scheme that the Minister was introducing by regulation but would not wish to reject it outright; we would not want to say: “You are doing the wrong thing completely; throw it out.” But we would like to have an opportunity to express our views on it.
Under the procedure in the Bill as it stands, we must be prepared to put down a motion to annul it or else there will be no discussion of the regulation here. We cannot get a discussion on a regulation, for instance, by putting down a motion to amend a particular aspect of the scheme as laid before the House. Notice of such a motion, if served within 21 days of the regulation being laid before the House would not be sufficient to get a discussion. The only motion which would have such effect would be one seeking to annul  the regulation altogether. That is unsatisfactory.
It had always been my understanding until this week that if a Member of the House were to put down a motion to annul a regulation it was then the Government's responsibility to provide time to discuss that motion and that it was on their initiative that time would be provided within 21 days so long as the motion had been put down in good time. That impression was shattered by the fact that a motion of this sort was put down a number of weeks ago by Deputy O'Toole to annul a patent regulation, the 21 days in which it must be moved expiring this Tuesday, and the Government had made no move to provide time for its discussion. When Deputy O'Toole himself on the previous Friday, the Government having done nothing in response to the motion —I should have thought it unnecessary for him to do it as it was the Government's responsibility—asked for time from the Government they said they would not give it with the result that although a motion to annul that patent regulation was put down in due form it was not discussed and the regulation went into effect, the Deputy's motion on the matter being entirely ignored. The Taoiseach said: “We are not providing Government time for this; we are too busy with other matters. If you want time, you will have to provide it out of Private Members' Time. We know how little Private Members' Time that either Opposition Members or Government Members, if they wish to use it, have in this House. In this case we know that a very urgent Bill, the Fisheries Bill, was being discussed by the Opposition at this time. We would have had to defer that Bill in order to provide this time——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Sean Browne
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: This is a procedural matter and can hardly be discussed on the amendment before the House. It is in order to refer to it but to go deeply and at length into it is not in order. It is entirely a procedural matter and I am sure the Deputy can raise it elsewhere.
Mr. Bruton Mr. Bruton
Mr. Bruton: With respect, the regulation procedure is a procedural  matter and the implications thereof cannot be discussed without reference to procedure. In my view, the procedure of this House has been seriously damaged by the action of the Government this week in regard to the patent regulation. The case I make for an alternative procedure to the one in the Bill in relation to consideration of regulations such as this has been strengthened by the fact that the Government did not act in accordance with what I believe to be the spirit of the rule by providing Government time for the discussion of a motion to annul. In some instances I believe it is in the interests of the success of this scheme that it get maximum publicity, be discussed here and have the Minister come back with his proposals rather than that it should be introduced by a back door method such as is contained in the Bill.
Mr. Hussey Mr. Hussey
Mr. Hussey: Amendment No. 2 which relates to section 2 of the Bill was discussed on Committee Stage and I informed the House then that I was not prepared to accept it. The regulations to be made under section 2 will be concerned with the details and technicalities of the classification procedure. The regulations will specify the kind of animals, the standard system of description and the marks to be applied to meat to indicate its classification, the manner by which the marks are to be applied and the persons or bodies responsible for classifying meat and applying the prescribed marks. The regulations will also prescribe a certificate and how it is to be completed, signed and delivered. All these things are mentioned in section 2 and I am quite satisfied that it would be wrong for me to burden both Houses of the Oireachtas with a requirement that they pass a resolution approving of a very detailed draft of the regulation before the regulation is made. It has been the practice for many years by successive Governments that matters of detail should be left to the care of Ministers to enact by way of orders or regulations. I see no reason why we should depart from that practice in this instance.
There are classification schemes, voluntary or otherwise, in the UK,  France and Germany, to name but a few of our markets or potential markets. All these schemes differ from each other and so, I cannot accept Deputy Bruton's suggestion that our scheme should correspond to the European scheme. I have already said as regards harmonisation of legislation in the EEC that it would be a matter for the EEC Commission in the first place to come forward with proposals.
Amendment No. 3 relates to section 4 of the Bill and was also discussed on Committee Stage. I am still not prepared to accept it. Here again, as in regard to amendment No. 2, the amendment seeks to impose a requirement that Ministerial regulations cannot be made without having a resolution approving of the draft passed by the Dáil and Seanad. The regulations in question relate to the use for breeding purposes of pigs of a colour other than all white and the keeping, disposal or acquisition of such pigs. The Minister has complete discretion as regards the importation of pigs or cattle or sheep and I do not consider it reasonable that an exception should be made in the case of pigs.
The whole purpose of section 4 is to replace the present absolute ban on the import and breeding of pigs not of an all-white colour by a system of control by regulation. If, at any time, import is favoured for research, or for specific breeding purposes, it is not my intention that the Oireachtas should be burdened by the requirement of having to pass a resolution. If the Oireachtas were to involve itself in minutiae such as this in all areas of Government activity the system would be unable to cope and I am aware of no good reason why an exceptional line should be taken in this case.
Mr. Bermingham Mr. Bermingham
Mr. Bermingham: I support this amendment because it seems to me most important matters arising under this legislation will be met by making regulations. The regulations will spell out exactly what classification means and what is being done and, therefore, I believe the House should have an opportunity of discussing any regulations the Minister may make. Decisions under this legislation will have either good or bad results. I know,  as the Minister stated, that there will be technical matters involved, but the regulations will be the real substance of the scheme and it is not good enough to say they will be laid on the Table of the House. As Deputy Bruton said, that means they will be available in the Library. The Minister says we can put down a motion to annul a regulation. The fact is we might not wish to annul it but we might want clarification, or there might be some part of it we might not like, and so it is vital that there should be some method of discussing these regulations. Judging by what happened last week, even if we did put down a motion to annul a regulation, it might not be possible to achieve any results unless one could use Private Members' Time which is something on which it is not always possible to get agreement.
Mr. Bruton Mr. Bruton
Mr. Bruton: There might be no Private Members' Time at the time.
Mr. Bermingham Mr. Bermingham
Mr. Bermingham: That is so. It is vitally important that there should be some method by which these regulations can be discussed. Laying regulations on the Table of the House would not be the answer because, speaking from experience, there are so many regulations one might easily miss out on one and then we would have to put up with the consequences and have no opportunity of discussing the effects of what we are now passing.
Mr. Bruton Mr. Bruton
Mr. Bruton: I am very sorry the Minister for State has not seen his way to accept this amendment. He sought to brush off the regulations, which will be made under section 2, as just dealing with details of the scheme, as if this was a minor and unimportant matter. As Deputy Bermingham has pointed out, the regulations are the essence of the scheme. They are not the details. They are the scheme. What we are discussing is not the scheme. We are discussing giving the Minister power, full stop. The scheme will not come about until the regulations are introduced and we are not to be allowed to discuss the schemes unless we move a motion to annul a regulation. That is the only way we  will get an opportunity of discussing some matters. How wide will be the regulations the Minister may make under section 2? Animals may be classified under section 2 according to prescribed standard systems of description. That could relate to anything, to description in relation to any particular quality, or quantity, or facet of an animal. It does not necessarily have to be confined to fat cover and conformation. It could be in relation to any meat going through our factories.
We are being asked here to give a very wide power. Furthermore, regulations may specify the persons or bodies which shall have responsibility for classifying. At the moment the proposal is that inspectors of the Department should have responsibility for classifying. That is acceptable. But the Minister may decide at some later date, having taken unto himself this power, that he is not going to have his own Department do the classification, because it is costing too much, and so he will hand it over to the factories and let them operate their own classification scheme, one factory operating one scheme and another factory operating another scheme, and let them pay whatever price they like according to whatever classification they work on. Yet they would have the official recognition and stamp of approval of the Minister by regulation under this section because the section clearly says that the regulations shall specify the persons or bodies. It does not say the regulation shall specify that officials of the Department of Agriculture shall have responsibility for classifying meat. Any number of different persons or bodies, qualified or not, may be given responsibility for carrying out this scheme under the regulations the Minister will be enabled to introduce by this section and we will have no say, even if we wish to reject the regulations outright, and no opportunity of discussing the regulations the Minister is making or may make in the future.
The Minister pointed out that different schemes exist in other countries. He said the scheme in Britain is different from that in France  and he sought to imply that we should not be too concerned about having a different scheme from that of either Britain or France. That is not a valid argument because we are in the export trade. The bulk of our meat is exported to Britain or Europe whereas those countries are concerned with the classification of meat for their own domestic market. Now, if one is concerned merely with classifying meat for one's own domestic market, one has much greater freedom in drawing up a scheme to suit one's own particular needs. If, however, one's primary source of income arises from exporting to other markets, then the case for taking account of schemes that obtain in these markets is much stronger than is the case for the French and British schemes which are chiefly concerned with classification for their own domestic market. The Minister's argument is not as valid as he may think it is.
The Minister said the House would not be able to cope if regulations of this sort had to be discussed here before they took effect. The reality is that if the Minister introduces a reasonably acceptable scheme, a scheme devised after consultation and a measure of agreement, that would be disposed of in an hour or an hour and a half. The Minister will agree with that from his own experience and so there is no question of the House being clogged up. Even if there were that possibility, it would always be possible to delegate to a select committee, which would be a good thing.
That would be a good thing if it were done. There is no question of the system in this House being unable to cope with regulations having to be approved by it. I believe the opposite is the case. Far too much legislation is taking place without any scrutiny by the House. More and more power is being given to Ministers to make law without this House being involved in the process. That is bad for parliamentary democracy and for the confidence the public have in the relevance of this House and should not be encouraged. In rejecting my amendments the Minister is taking a step in the wrong direction.
 Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 3 not moved.
Bill received for final consideration.
Agreed to take Fifth Stage today.
Dáil Éireann 307 Agricultural Produce (Meat) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1978: Report Stage (Resumed) .