I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.
In asking the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, I want to avail of the opportunity to clear up a great deal of misconceptions which have been circulating in the past few days with regard to this whole matter. I want to emphasise strongly to the House that I am under no embarrassment whatever in introducing this Income Tax (Amendment) Bill. There is no reason indeed why an embarrassment should attach to anybody in this House, anybody in the Seanad, anybody in the Government, or anybody who had anything to do with the preparation of the Income Tax (Consolidation) Bill of 1966. We are dealing here with what I would call a practical, sensible, parliamentary device to overcome a difficulty which has arisen.
I want to stress especially that the Standing Joint Committee which laboured so long and arduously over the Income Tax Bill of 1966 did its work competently and thoroughly. I want to repeat that we are all, and should all be, profoundly grateful to that Committee for the magnificent work it did. In particular, I have no hesitation in paying a tribute to the Chairman of that Committee, Deputy Sweetman, for the dedication he brought to his work on the Committee and, indeed, for the anxious way in which he watched over the development of this monumental piece of legislation from its earliest stages. That applies equally to all the other members of the Standing Joint Committee. Nothing could be further from the truth than that this Committee, or indeed the House, or the Government, overlooked in any way the question of the impact of the Constitution on the Income Tax Bill of 1966. I want to scotch any such erroneous impression.
The Report of the Standing Joint Committee has been printed and published and is available to anybody who wants to read it. Anybody who takes the trouble to read the Report will find that on Thursday, 5th January last, at a meeting of the Committee, Mr. V. Grogan, the Director of the Statute Law Reform and Consolidation Office, was called before the Committee and examined. I want to read you the Report of the Committee on that examination. I shall read it in full because I think it important I should do so.
The Chairman, Deputy Sweetman, posed the first question and said:
Mr. Grogan, you have examined the Bill, as apart from preparing it, and you have examined all the amendments submitted and passed by the Committee?
Reply: I have.
Question: Are you satisfied that the Bill as amended by the Committee, represents the present statute law?
Reply: I am.
Question: In connection with income tax?
Question: And leaving out, of course, any reference to corporation profits tax but putting in references to income tax and sur-tax that might have appeared in a corporation profit tax Act or section?
Reply: That is so.
Question: Any member of the Committee is entitled now to put any question he wants to the witness.
Major de Valera: The Attorney General has certified that this Bill is in accordance with legislation as it stands. I take it that means that it embodies all provisions which are on the Statute Book and it is not a certificate as to what the law is at the moment?
Reply: I agree. The Attorney General's certificate is in conformity with the Standing Orders of the Dáil and Seanad and merely certifies that the Bill reproduces the existing enactments as they now appear on the Statute Book.
Question: Is there any implication that every provision in this Bill is good law at the moment?
Reply: No. That would be beyond the function of the Attorney General in connection with a Consolidation Bill.
Question: Is there implied any judgment as to the enforceable validity of such a section as section 483?
Reply: No. No such implication could be raised on the Attorney General's certificate.
Question: On constitutional grounds or otherwise?
Reply: The Attorney General's certificate is, I repeat, in compliance with the Standing Orders of the Dáil and Seanad in relation to Consolidation Bills and the Attorney General is entitled to do no more than that.
Question: As the Bill stands, the intention is that the law will be as heretofore on the Statute Book?
Reply: The intention must arise from the construction of the statute. The intention of the Oireachtas in passing this Act is to make no change in the law as it appears on the Statute Book.
Question: As it appears on the Statute Book?
The witness then withdrew.
I have read this Report of the Standing Joint Committee because I feel I must make it abundantly clear that the Committee had regard at all times to the difficulties that might possibly arise in regard to the constitutionality or otherwise of some of the provisions of this Consolidation Bill.
I want to emphasise again that the Income Tax Bill of 1966 is a Consolidation Bill and the very essence of a Consolidation Bill is that it can do no more and no less than consolidate the statute law as it stands. A consolidation Bill could not attempt or purport to remove anything from the law; or put anything into the law. The Committee had to satisfy itself that it did precisely what it should do in accordance with our Standing Orders, namely, take all the statute law as we have it in this country governing income tax and put it into one statute. This is very valuable work indeed. I know from my own experience and from things said to me by accountants and lawyers during the past few days that many people are anxious to get this piece of legislation into law because it will be of very great assistance to a considerable number of people in our community if they can have all the law governing income tax available to them in one modern statute.
A difficulty has arisen and it is an understandable difficulty. This provision which is in the Consolidation Bill, in section 483, was in the Income Tax Act of 1918. Of course, we know that the situation was changed in this regard by the enactment of the Constitution. At the Committee, when the question of the constitutionality of section 483 was raised, I gave an assurance to the Chairman and the members that I was aware of their doubts about this section and their unhappiness about it but that I would avail of the first opportunity, namely, the forthcoming Finance Bill either to repeal this provision in its entirety, or to modify it in some way which would make it acceptable to Deputies and to the House as being in conformity with the Constitution and with, indeed, all our ideas as to how these matters should be conducted. I want to pay a tribute to the Committee and its members that they accepted that assurance on my part and agreed that this was a sensible parliamentary procedure; that the Consolidation Bill could be allowed to proceed as it stood on the basis of my assurance that this matter would be put right to everybody's satisfaction at the earliest possible opportunity.
As Deputies know, the Bill then went to the President for signature. The President, of course, who exercises a different function in regard to legislation from the function we exercise, apparently had doubts as to the constitutionality of some of the provisions in the Bill and had to consider whether or not it was his duty to refer the measure to the Supreme Court for a decision. In that situation, it seemed to me and to the Government that the sensible thing to do, at this stage, was to bring in this amending Bill to delete from the consolidation measure, when it becomes law, two provisions, to which exception might possibly be taken and which might cause difficulty as to their constitutionality.
That is simply what we are doing here. I am asking the House to pass the Bill, the purpose of which is to remove from the consolidation measure section 483 in its entirety and section 480, subsections (2) and (3). I am hoping the Bill will be passed by the Dáil today and by the Seanad tomorrow and will go to the President for signature tomorrow. I think this is a sensible, practical parliamentary procedure for getting out of this difficulty which has arisen. I again wish to emphasise that this House, this Oireachtas, is not here attempting to pass any new law. If we were attempting to do that, I would suggest it would be the duty of the Government and the Opposition and everybody else to be vigilant that we did not attempt to pass legislation which would be unconstitutional or which could be held to be unconstitutional.
I think that situation would apply to us if we were enacting some new provisions here; but as a House of Parliament, when we were consolidating a measure, a different obligation was placed on us. We were setting out to consolidate all the statute law as it stood in the Statute Book, and therefore, as the Oireachtas, we could not have regard to whether particular provisions in a consolidation measure were constitutional or not, because all we could do in bringing in this consolidation measure was to ensure that the measure was in accordance with Standing Orders. Despite the fact that the Select Committee in particular and the House also did not have to have regard to the constitutional provisions in regard to this measure, nevertheless they were sufficiently alert to advert to them as one can see from the Report which I have read.
I again wish to say to the House that this is an important measure from my point of view. I think it will be very useful, very helpful to many people. If we are not able to adhere to our time schedule and have a Consolidation Bill passed by 6th April this year, the whole procedure will have to start all over again and that would be a very great waste from my point of view, from the point of view of many others, particularly here in the House, and to many members of the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Revenue Commissioners. All the work would have gone to waste and would have to be started all over again. In order to try to obviate that, I am adopting this procedure, which I admit is somewhat unusual, but is in accordance with our Standing Orders and rules, namely, excising from the consolidation measure these provisions which might lead to difficulty and excising them in advance so that when the Consolidation Bill becomes law, they will not ever come into effect.