Thursday, 4 May 1972
Dáil Eireann Debate
The purpose of this small Bill is to remove with effect from 14th July, 1971, the provision requiring the warehousing of certain British vodka for a period of three years. Vodka of the type involved is required to be matured in warehouse for at least three years under section 2 of the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act, 1947, as amended by section 1 of the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act, 1969. The corresponding Irish-produced vodka is not, however, subject to a maturation requirement.
Under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement  this provision was held to be discriminatory in relation to British vodka and it was decided that it should be removed with effect from 1st July, 1971. A section providing for this was as Deputies may recall, included in the Finance Bill, 1971, as introduced in this House. I was advised, however, that the section affected the Money Bill character of the Finance Bill and, in the circumstances, I did not proceed with it. I indicated at the time that I would introduce legislation at the first suitable opportunity removing the warehousing requirement with effect from the following day—14th July, 1971—and that in the meantime I was asking the Revenue Commissioners to remove the requirement administratively on this understanding. The Bill now before the House provides for the amendment of the immature spirits legislation to give statutory effect to this undertaking.
Dr. FitzGerald: We accept that this Bill is in fulfilment of obligations under the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement. One hopes a similar spirit of co-operation is to be found on the other side of the Irish Sea. In respect of some provisions of the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement the British Government would appear not to take them too seriously. Cheese is one case and I think there is the problem of cream as well. Another issue that arises on that is whether they have taken seriously the obligation imposed on them with regard to the question of giving preference in state contracts to goods. I have heard it said that in Northern Ireland this part of the agreement has not been implemented by the Northern Ireland Government, now suspended, and taken over by the British Government. I should like to feel that if we are implementing loyally and legalistically every provision of this agreement we are insisting that the British Government do likewise in Britain and Northern Ireland. We are entitled to that if we are to introduce this kind of legislation here.
On the Bill itself—the Title of which has given rise to some levity, increased  perhaps by the Taoiseach's references yesterday and today to mature politicians—we recognise the need for it but there are a few points of clarification which we might have been given in the opening speech. I find persistently in dealing with legislation that the opening speeches by Ministers do not clarify aspects of the Bill and therefore make it very difficult for us to decide whether any action is required on Committee Stage. When I try to raise points I am told: “That is a Committee Stage matter.” One cannot know whether there is a matter for the Committee Stage unless one understands the reasons for the provisions in the Bill.
Does this mean there is a special kind of vodka which is adulterated in some way and that the Bill does not apply to pure vodka, or is all vodka adulterated in this way and, if so, why is it necessary to define the vodka in question in this way? The wording must have some significance and we should be told whether all vodkas are adulterated, in which case the definition would appear to be tautologous, or whether the Bill applies only to certain kinds of vodka. I know nothing about vodka, I speak in complete ignorance, but we should have some explanations given to us for the reason for that.
vodka shall not be deemed to have been manufactured in the United Kingdom unless it has been made in the United Kingdom from spirits which have been manufactured there from materials other than materials falling within Tariff Heading number 22.08 or Tariff Heading number 22.09...
I often wonder why it is necessary to work in such a devious way in drafting  legislation. The Parliamentary Secretary should tell us what are these materials under Tariff Headings 22.08 and 22.09. It would appear here that the type of vodka we are dealing with is not only vodka which has the flavour communicated to it or ingredients or materials mixed with it, but that it must not be made from particular materials. What are these materials? Why do they have to be disguised in this way? Clearly there is some restriction here. What kind of vodka are we excluding and why?
I note that the UK is defined as meaning Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. I know the Parliamentary Draftsman can do anything and can deem anything to be anything else but, as a simple matter of fact, the United Kingdom does not consist of these places, it consists of Great Britain and Northern Ireland legally and in international law. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not part of the United Kingdom. Why we in this House should wish to add them to the United Kingdom and to deprive them of the degree of independence they have I do not know. If the British Government do not feel it necessary to incorporate them in the UK I do not think it is up to us to get involved in this political activity. It may be merely a case of drafting convenience but I prefer drafting precision. The fact is that this Bill applies to vodka imported from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and from two other territories associated with the Crown—the Channel Islands, which are part of the Duchy of Normandy, the only remaining part of it, and the Isle of Man. It is an issue on which we in Ireland are often unclear. I recall in my time in Aer Lingus, after the Suez crisis in 1957, a problem arose of restriction of fuel supplies for aircraft. The British introduced a system under which you could pick up at any one point only X per cent of the fuel you had picked up at that point in the previous four weeks. To simplify things it was decided to generalise this so that in the UK as a whole you could pick up X per cent of the amount of fuel you had picked up in the previous four weeks. I pointed  out to my superiors in the company that this did not apply to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man but they paid no attention to me and consequently an Aer Lingus plane landed on the Channel Islands and found it was not entitled to pick up any more fuel because it was not part of the UK and had to limp back to Exeter and stop there to pick up fuel. That is what can happen if you are imprecise in your use of language. We should be clear as to what the UK is and what it is not. We may wish to disintegrate the UK in its present form, a legitimate ambition if carried out peacefully, by removing from it Northern Ireland, but we should not at the same time be trying to add to it the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. It would have been quite simple to have said that this Bill applies to vodka imported from the UK, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands without having to purport to annex them to the UK.
I also noticed from the Parliamentary Secretary's speech that the Minister asked the Revenue Commissioners to remove the requirements administratively on the understanding that he was going to introduce legislation. What was involved in this? Are we talking of that curious power of the Minister to direct the Revenue Commissioners to do things, which emerged in the course of the events that led to the arms trial when inquiries by the secretary to the Minister for Finance disclosed the fact, hitherto apparently unknown to Ministers for Finance, that they could interfere with the Revenue Commissioners? Is this power, thus curiously discovered, now being employed in order to persuade the Revenue Commissioners not to apply the law? I would have thought that the job of the Revenue Commissioners is to apply the law until this House changes it. I am surprised that a Minister can ask them— a nice word—to make the changes administratively which are contrary to the law. Is it the fact that the Revenue Commissioners have, at the Minister's request, been acting contrary to existing law for a period of ten months? This should be explained to us. How extensive is this power? Can the Minister tell the Revenue Commissioners to  break the law in any and every respect? Are there only certain laws the Minister can ask them to break?
This Bill is a small one. We are not objecting to it in itself but the presentation of it, as is the case in so many instances, is slipshod and inadequate and it does not conform to the standards this House should require. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with the points I have raised.
Mr. Tully: I suppose, to be consistent, in view of the fact that the Labour Party voted against the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement, I should challenge a vote on the Second Reading of this Bill. I wonder what the result would be. Fine Gael having abstained on that occasion would probably vote with us this time and we could have a general election. If I thought it would have that effect I would be only too glad to do so.
Mr. Tully: I think I will. It is not really important in my opinion whether the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands are lumped in with Great Britain. My objection is that the Six Counties are lumped in there and there is not very much we can do about it. I wish we could drown Britain in vodka and get them out of it.
Mr. Tully: I do not think it matters a whole lot. I do not think we should waste the time of this House discussing this. Whether vodka has to be held up for three years or not is not terribly important to the ordinary people and they are the people who really count. Even the date has changed. It was originally supposed to be from 1st July, 1971. There is some peculiar reason for this. I suppose the people who drafted the Bill decided this.
I would agree with Deputy FitzGerald that we seem to be meticulous about dealing with our breach of the agreement but it is a pity the Government were not a little tougher  when they found that the agreement was being breached on the other side.
Mr. Tully: It seems as if we are again bowing the knee and saying: “We made a mistake. Do not say anything to us. We will fix it up as quickly as we can.” Britain left us in a peculiar position by imposing certain tariffs against the whole spirit of the agreement a few years ago. We did not say anything to them at all. It does not matter to me or to many people whether or not this is passed in this House. It would be a pity if we wasted too much of the time of the House on it.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance (Mr. Lemass): There are just a few points I wish to make. Deputy FitzGerald is wondering if Great Britain is looking after their side of the Free Trade Agreement. Great Britain brought in corresponding legislation in September, 1966.
Mr. Lemass: The Bill only applies to the type of vodka as defined. It does not apply to vodka consisting of a pure spirit; only the vodka as described in  section 1. Home-produced vodka is relieved from the restriction by virtue of the fact that during the manufacturing process the spirits are delivered to a licensed rectifier. Section 1 (1) (a) reads:
This is a very small Bill. Deputy Tully raised the question of the dates 1st July to 14th July. The matter was raised here in this House by the Minister. He was advised by the Ceann Comhairle that the section of the Bill was not appropriate to a Money Bill and it was withdrawn. Reference was made in volume 255, No. 7, column 1168 where the Minister said:
In view of the Chair's ruling, I propose to remove section 27 but I also propose to introduce legislation at the first suitable opportunity bringing the provisions which were contained in section 27 into operation with effect from tomorrow, 14th July and in the meantime, I am asking the Revenue Commissioners to remove the restrictions administratively on this understanding.
The Revenue Commissioners agreed to give administrative effect to the Minister's proposals from 14th July, 1971. It was not a question of directing them. In fact, the Revenue Commissioners responded to the Minister's suggestion. Between 1st and 14th July no vodka to which the Bill applies was removed from the warehouses.
Dr. FitzGerald: There are two points which I wish to mention. The Parliamentary Secretary did not tell us what the reference on 22.08 and 22.09 is. I would like to come back also on the question of the Revenue Commissioners' action. Have the Revenue Commissioners power to ignore the law because the Minister asks them to do so?
Mr. Tully: In fairness to the Parliamentary Secretary, I think this is the common practice. By precedent this has been done where there is no objection. It would be a mistake if we now decided to change this practice. Vodka does not matter a damn.
Mr. Lemass: That goes back a long way. I could not give the Deputy the exact reference offhand. The Revenue Commissioners are independent of Government direction. They can refuse to accept ministerial suggestions.
Mr. Lemass: In this situation the Revenue Commissioners decided to act on the Minister's suggestion and there was no opposition to it in this House on 13th July. Section 1 (2) lays down the origin criterion of determining United Kingdom manufacture. It is a process rule which requires that vodka must be made in the United Kingdom from spirit manufactured there. The exclusion of the materials of Tariff Headings Nos. 22.08 and 22.09, which are the headings for spirits and liqueurs, is to ensure that the full process of manufacture is carried out in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Tully: Deputy FitzGerald wants to ensure that the Channel Islands are not included. Is that really a matter for the House? It does not matter on this Bill. We should not waste the time of the House on this.
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