I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The dual aims of this short Bill are, first, to enable the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972 to be brought into operation in stages and, second, to provide for an advisory council on dangerous substances.
The 1972 Act consolidated and amended the law relating to explosives and petroleum and provided enabling powers in relation to other dangerous substances. The purpose of the Act was to regulate the industrial as distinct from the criminal use of these substances. My intention is to bring certain provisions of the Act into operation and at the same time to make comprehensive regulations relating to the areas of law affected. The Act provided for the repeal of controls under old statutes, and among these were certain parts of the Explosives Act, 1875. Because of a development in the meantime, which I shall presently explain, repeal of these provisions now would leave a serious gap in our laws for dealing with the criminal uses of certain substances, which, if freed from control, would tend to be used as explosives even though they were not considered to be explosives in 1972.
In the latter part of 1972, after the legislation of that year had been passed, orders were made by the Government under the Explosives Act, 1875, prescribing ammonium nitrate, sodium chlorate and nitro-benzene to be explosives for the purposes of that Act. Two of these substances were at the time in common use as weed killers or fertilisers, but it was established that they were also being used as ingredients for the manufacture of explosives. The needs of public order dictated that they should be controlled and, on the initiative of the Minister for Justice, the Government introduced the controls which they considered to be necessary. The position today is that the need for these controls remains.
As I have indicated, the substances in question are not "explosives" within the terms of the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972; therefore they would cease to be controlled if that Act were brought into operation as drafted. Hence the need to leave the legal position with respect to explosives as it is for the time being, while bringing other provisions of the 1972 Act into operation. It is my intention to bring the Act into operation minus Part II, which relates to explosives, and also to arrange that the relevent provisions of the Explosives Act, 1875, shall remain in force. Powers in relation to explosives will continue in force under the existing legislation and will remain with the Minister for Justice.
I turn now to Part III of the 1972 Act relating to petroleum. Last autumn, having reviewed the work done in the Department on the preparation of regulations on petroleum, I gave notice of intention to make four sets of petroleum regulations and invited observations from the parties affected by them. The observations received have been examined, discussed with the interests concerned, and where appropriate, changes have been made in the draft regulations. These, I hope, can be made in a matter of weeks. They will operate from the date the Act comes into operation and certain existing provisions will be repealed by the Act. The intention of the regulations is to reduce, in so far as it is within our compass to do so, the risks to persons and property involved in the conveyance, loading, unloading and storage of petroleum.
As to other dangerous substances, to which Part IV of the 1972 Act relates, these will come within the scope of the Act according as orders are made declaring that the Act applies to them. I intend in the near future to initiate action under the Act to deal with the packaging, labelling, transport, loading, unloading and storage of some 25 substances which have already been identified by the industrial inspectorate as requiring attention under the Act. The collaboration of a number of other Departments and State agencies will be involved in the implementation of any such regulations and the necessary consultations are proceeding.
Having regard to the growth in the number and variety of materials being used and developed, there is a need for vigilance in the identification of hazardous substances and providing information on the dangers, precautions and protective measures in respect of them. Even though advice will be available to me from official sources, as well as from the EEC, the ILO and other agencies, I believe that an advisory body representative of interests concerned will be of considerable assistance in making for the effective working of this legislation. There is no provision in the 1972 Act for such a body. I am therefore availing of the present opportunity to provide for an advisory council. The provisions in the Bill aim to give maximum flexibility as to representation and terms of reference of the council. It should enable me to draw on the best advice on all aspects of the safe movement, storage and handling of dangerous substances.
I commend this Bill to the House.