I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. As the Deputies are aware from looking at the Bill it is an extremely technical matter, and, therefore, we have endeavoured to make the Explanatory Memorandum which was circulated with the text of the Bill as full as possible. That memorandum sets out the origin of exchange control here and gives a fairly detailed picture of the way in which that control is administered. It indicates also the circumstances which necessitate the enactment of new legislation and outlines the provisions made in respect of this Bill. I think, therefore, that the Deputies will have had an opportunity of acquainting themselves with the background to the Bill and it will, perhaps, hardly be necessary for me at this stage to go into its detailed provisions. I might, however, indicate a few of the more salient features of the Bill.
Exchange control was operated here under the authority originally conferred by emergency powers legislation and more recently through the Supplies and Services (Temporary Provisions) Act, which was first enacted in 1946 and extended from year to year thereafter. When the last such amending Bill was before the House a year ago, the then Minister for Industry and Commerce indicated that the various Ministers were concerned to see that the services which were operated under it should be carried on in future as soon as possible through permanent legislation. That decision is being implemented in this Bill.
The Bill is expressed to expire in four years' time, but I am afraid that that must not be read as a forecast of the probable duration of control. It is rather an earnest of the Government's desire to dispense as soon as possible with the restrictions which have been carried over from the years of the emergency. The abolition of exchange control, however, must await the restoration of free convertibility of sterling on current and capital account. On present indications such an event is not likely to occur for some years.
The Bill introduces no new principle of control. Its provisions are largely a restatement of the existing law, as set out in the Supplies and Services (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1946, and the Exchange Control Orders made thereunder. I should like, however, to draw attention to the important modification that the power to acquire gold coin, bullion and securities, which is contained in the 1946 Act, is being abandoned. The other changes proposed are of a minor nature and are designed merely to facilitate the administration of control without introducing any new restrictions. These changes are noted in the Explanatory Memorandum, paragraphs 26 and 27, and are covered also in Sections 17 and 18 of the Bill. In some respects, the existing law is being relaxed, for example, in relation to the determination of residential status which, hitherto a power of the Minister, is now being left to the courts in the event of dispute.
The Bill in general follows the lines of the Exchange Control Order, 1947, in that it is expressed to operate by way of prohibition or obligation with power reserved to the Minister for Finance to grant permissions and exemptions. Exchange control practice, as Deputies will appreciate, must of necessity be continuously adjusted to meet changing conditions. It has been possible to grant substantial reliefs from statutory restrictions as circumstances permit, but it has also been necessary on occasion to tighten control to deal with a deteriorating foreign exchange position. It would obviously be impracticable to have recourse to amending legislation whenever circumstances necessitated a change in exchange control practice. At the same time, it is recognised that such changes should be effected, so far as possible, in a formal manner which can be noted judicially by the courts and which will afford the general public a reasonable opportunity of determining their position under the law. Accordingly, it is proposed to incorporate, so far as possible, administrative exemptions of general application in regulations to be made by the Minister for Finance. Such regulations will be presented in the normal way to both Houses of the Oireachtas.
As I said, the memorandum is fairly full but if there is any particular point on which any Deputy would like information, of course I will be only too happy to afford it.