I move amendment No. 1:—
In page 13, to delete section 1 (2), lines 14 and 15,
Section 1 of this Bill provides that "This Act may be cited as the Defence Act, 1951." Subsection (2) which I propose to delete provides that:—
"This Act shall come into operation on such day as may be fixed therefor by order of the Minister for Defence."
I object to that provision in this Bill on a number of grounds. First and foremost, under the constitutional requirements governing Bills and Acts, a Bill passed by the Dáil, and passed by the Seanad shall become law as and from the day on which it is signed by the President under the Constitution. That is the fundamental law dealing with Bills. That particular article of the Constitution says that it shall, unless the contrary intention appears, come into operation on that day. It further says in the same article— Article 25—that every Bill signed by the President under the Constitution shall be promulgated by the President as a law by the publication by his direction of a notice inIris Oifigiúil stating that the Bill has become law. The ordinary requirements are passing by the Dáil, passing by the Seanad, signing by the President and promulgation by the President, and then the Bill becomes law.
I am aware that in complicated Acts dealing with many different matters a practice has developed of providing that a particular section of an Act may come into operation on a date to be fixed by the Government or fixed by resolution, or to be decided by the Minister or in some other way. One can understand that practice in a complicated Act dealing with many things—insurance, for example—where it would be impossible to bring particular sections into operation until other sections had, in fact, been in operation.
I know—and I would like the Minister to deal with this point—of no simple Act which has been passed by this House leaving its operation to take effect on a decision of a Minister. I know of no precedent for it. There may be a precedent but I am not aware of it. If there is a precedent, it is a bad precedent.
After something over 25 years we are endeavouring now in this Bill to provide a new Defence Act, and when this is passed by the Dáil and by the Seanad and signed by the President it ought to become law. I think this is important because there has been, for some reason that I cannot understand, a nibbling into what one might term constitutional practice and constitutional usage, and that nibbling has gone on apparently without any sound reason. I am taking the opportunity now—the first time I have got it—to object to it and to say that this Bill should become law, like any other Bill, when it is passed by the Dáil and the Seanad and signed and promulgated by the President. If we leave that provision there a Bill that we might want to operate might not be brought into operation for one, two or three years, or more.
The Minister will indicate, of course, that he is anxious, and the Defence Forces are anxious, to have this Bill brought into operation as quickly as possible. However, there are many slips between the cup and the lip; the very best intentions may become impossible of fulfilment, and we could be in the position that this House and the Seanad and the President all having carried out their constitutional functions, we could be still left without the operation of this particular Bill.
I raised this point and we discussed it on the Committee Stage and the Minister indicated a reason then for this particular provision. He said:—
"The Deputy will realise that regulations have to be made, and it is necessary to have a definite time for that. They cannot be made until the Bill has been passed by the Oireachtas. If the Bill came into operation on the day on which it was signed by the President, which would be the effect of the proposed amendment, there would be absolute chaos."
The Minister went on to say that the Army would require some time to study the Bill and to make regulations under it and that without these regulations the Bill could not be put effectively into operation. The Minister obviously was advised that that was the position.
In studying the Bill more closely, I found that the draftsmen had made every provision for the coming into operation of this Bill on the day on which it becomes law on promulgation by the President. There are several sections specifically providing that every regulation in existence at the date of the passing of the Bill will carry on until such time as that regulation is suspended by new regulations. Every conceivable transitory provision has been provided. Section 296 provides that all these regulations will continue in full force. It says:—
"Every existing statutory instrument shall be deemed to have been made under this Act and may be revoked or amended accordingly and, until so revoked and subject to any such amendment, shall continue in force."
There is no point in saying that time is required for the purpose of making new regulations. The old regulations carry on and have full statutory effect. There is provision in Section 295 dealing with existing Reservists. There is provision in Section 294 dealing with existing Regulars and that particular section covers almost four pages of provisions for the operation of the section. Section 293 deals with existing Regular officers and existing Reserve officers, who are deemed to be commissioned under the Act. Section 292 says that the existing permanent force and the existing nursing service shall, on the operative date, become and be the permanent Defence Force. The operative date for the purpose of the Bill is defined in the definition section as the date on which the Bill becomes law.
I would ask the House not to agree to this form of legislation, where a simple Bill—and I describe this as a simple Bill, a forthright Bill—dealing with the Defence Forces is in question. I ask the House to decide that there is no necessity for this nibbling into our constitutional procedure.
I have watched over a number of years and I see that once a nibble is made, whether it is successful or not, that nibbling is continued in subsequent Acts. As I have said, here every conceivable provision for bringing this Act into operation on the day it is signed by the President is provided in the Act. Consequently, there are no grounds for providing that it is not to come into operation until the Minister decides, by Order, to bring it into operation.
I think it is unwise to have legislation brought into effect that way. I think it is bad. It is a very bad precedent. I certainly object to it as strongly as I can.