Wednesday, 15 May 1957
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. S. Lemass): This Bill is a machinery Bill, and I ask Deputies not to be misled in any way by the rather elaborate provisions set out. The main purpose of the Bill is to make some  comparatively minor changes in the Emergency (Imposition of Duties) Act, 1932, but it was felt that it was preferable to repeal that Act and re-enact it with these changes rather than have people, who might have to refer to it, having to take note of two Acts, one amending the other.
I will indicate what the changes are. One of the reasons why the Bill is appearing at this time, rather than some other time, is that it is required in order to continue in permanent legislation the power which is now exercisable under the Supplies and Services Act to suspend the operation of customs duties. It may be asked why customs duty should be kept in a state of suspension, but there is a reason for that. Quite a number, if not the great majority, of customs duties were suspended during the war and were brought back into operation after the war as circumstances appeared to require; but there are still a number which have not yet been brought back into operation.
The manufacturers, for whose benefit these duties were imposed, have been able to carry on and develop their businesses without the aid of the duties, but they have said that the knowledge that the duties are there and can be brought into operation is of great assistance to them and, even if they are not asking to have them brought back into force now, they are at the same time not desirous of seeing them repealed altogether. At any rate, so long as it is considered desirable to keep customs duties of that kind in suspension, it is necessary to have power to do it. That power will lapse, however, when the Supplies and Services Act ceases to operate at the end of the year.
There is another change being made, which I think the House will welcome because it has been the subject of discussion here and in the Seanad on previous occasions. Under the existing law an Order made by the Government imposing a duty of customs has to be confirmed by legislation within a period of eight months. That seemed a quite reasonable period to allow when the original Emergency (Imposition of Duties) Act was being framed  but, in practice, it works out to the disadvantage of due consideration of customs duties by the Legislature. The imposition or amendment of customs duties is a continuing process and at a stage in each year, generally approaching the end of a parliamentary session, it is discovered in the Department of Industry and Commerce that a duty will be due to lapse if it is not confirmed by legislation, some time during the Recess and, therefore, a Bill is hastily produced and rushed into the Dáil to confirm all the duties which are outstanding at the time.
It has usually been difficult to fit such a Bill into the parliamentary programme and there have been frequent complaints expressed here and in the other House that, because of this need for urgency to prevent the lapsing of a duty under the provisions of the Act, adequate time is not available for its consideration. The proposal here is that duties and Orders in any year will be confirmed in the next calendar year. The idea is that there will be one Bill produced each year for the consideration of the Dáil—a Bill to confirm all the Orders made under the Act in the previous year. That will enable that piece of legislation to be fitted normally to the legislative programme and there will, therefore, be no element of urgency when it comes before the Dáil for consideration.
There is another change being made which is also of some importance, although it appears to be a minor matter. The Act gives power to the Government to revoke an Order made under the Act but a number of the customs duties in force were imposed under Finance Acts. Before the Act of 1932 was passed, all customs duties were imposed in Finance Acts. By an oversight, power to revoke a customs duty imposed by a Finance Act was not taken in the Emergency (Imposition of Duties) Act and although the Government has power by Order to revoke customs duties imposed under the Imposition of Duties Act it has not got power to revoke duties imposed by a Finance Act.
That position is being rectified in this Bill. These are the only changes,  except the change of name. The Act of 1932 is called the Emergency (Imposition of Duties) Act. The new Act will be known as the Imposition of Duties Act which in our circumstances is more appropriate.
Mr. Norton: I think the Bill is a good Bill. It gets rid of the fire brigade administration which was associated with the old scheme of trying to get a Bill passed through the Dáil and Seanad, usually by pleading with the Opposition of the day to pass it in the quickest possible time before the limit had expired. This Bill puts the matter on a much more regular and normal basis from that point of view. The revocation provision in this Bill is highly desirable because, due to the omission of that power in previous Bills, there was no authority to deal with revocations no matter how desirable they might be. I think that, on the whole, this tidies up our customs imposition of duties legislation and it has my warm support.
Mr. Dillon: May I make two submissions? In our present circumstances, is it desirable to maintain this system of suspension of duties with the possibility of reimposition without any reference to Parliament? It does not matter what Government is in office the imposition of a duty on a particular commodity can be a matter of great consequence. It is always a check on the administration that if they change something like that they have to come to Parliament and in 999 cases out of 1,000 the thing passes through automatically but the fact that——
Mr. Dillon: That is the annual  thing? However, that removes that. The only other thing that occurs to me is whether it is desirable to invest the Government with powers to suspend or revoke duties which have been imposed by statute. I see the convenience of doing it but I think the principle is bad. In 1932 the Government of that day sought all those extraordinary powers to fight the economic war.
Mr. Dillon: Then, during wartime it was necessary to have a number of emergency powers in order to enable the administration to be carried on in time of emergency. I will not press this matter further than to say that I demur to the principle generally of investing the administration, whatever it may be, with the power to revoke statute law by Order. I see the convenience of it. I stand for the preservation of a principle. The Minister would have been justified in going to the trouble of repealing all the statutory duties, if necessary, and reenacting them under this statute rather than introduce in peacetime a precedent for seeking authority from the Oireachtas to permit the administration to revoke a statute by Order. We are all agreed that we should get rid of the Emergency Powers Act and we have all been busy for the past six or seven years, both administrations, in rounding up all the Orders that were in existence in our several Departments, putting them in here and enacting them into permanent legislation on the grounds that legislation by Order was not desirable in times of normalcy. I think it is a pity that at the same time we should now confer on the Executive by Order the power of repealing that which this House has done by statute.
Mr. S. Lemass: Finance duties are in the same position as duties imposed  by Government Order. While I do not mind being called a purist, I should like to say that the origin of the 1932 Act was not entirely due to the economic war. The Government that came into office early in March or February of that year were committed to a protectionist programme. I, as Minister for Industry and Commerce, was told that any protection I wanted to bring into operation that year had to be done in the Finance Act in May. I spent two or three frantic months, along with the office staff, drafting out the definitions of the various things that were to be made subject to protective duty of some kind or another. In the Schedule, there are pages and pages of the duties that came into operation for the first time. I made as many mistakes in regard to definitions and in other respects as the previous Government made last year in preparing their Special Levies Order.
I was appalled by what I was told, that if mistakes had been made, it was too bad, as they could not be remedied until the Finance Act of 1933. The fact that we needed power to propose new duties continuously during the year led to the introduction of the original Act and the fact that that Act has been kept in operation ever since is a clear indication that it is a useful piece of machinery. We just could not get back to the procedure of dealing with customs duties or amendments of customs duties once a year in the Finance Act. I think it would be undesirable if importers and others felt that the Government was powerless to deal with matters of that kind until the following May. In that case there would be far more frequent attempts to complicate our industrial problem by abnormal imports but that cannot arise now. It is the knowledge that the Government can act quickly now which is the main deterrent to attempts to get round definitions.
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