Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 13 Jul 1938

Vol. 21 No. 7

Imposition of Duties (Confirmation of Orders) Bill, 1938 (Certified Money Bill)—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That this Bill be now read a Second Time."

As members of the Seanad are no doubt aware, Orders made under the Emergency Imposition of Duties Act are valid only for a period of eight months unless confirmed by resolutions passed in each House of the Oireachtas. A number of these Orders are made from time to time, and periodically Bills of this character are brought forward for the purpose of having Orders confirmed. This Bill is, therefore, in the usual form. The Orders, which it is proposed to confirm, relate to a variety of commodities. Emergency Imposition of Duties Order No. 131, at reference No. 1 in the Schedule, amends the duty upon woven piece goods. Heretofore, the duty on these woven piece goods of cotton or linen, or a union of cotton and linen, included a number of exceptions. Certain of these exceptions were removed by this Order, and the duty was increased to 40 per cent. ad valorem, with a minimum duty of 4d. per square yard on these woven goods which include dungarees, ticking, bed-sheeting and terry cloths. A variation of the duty was considered necessary for the purpose of ensuring the development of the industry here, consequent upon certain increased charges imposed on it, first, in consequence of the enactment of the Conditions of Employment Act, and, secondly, following a variation of the rates of wages paid as a result of an award given by a wages tribunal established in 1937 under the Industrial Courts Act. Since the Order was made, of course, the Agreement with the United Kingdom necessitated a reduction of the duty upon linen cloths from 40 per cent. to 20 per cent. That has been effected by the Order.

Emergency Imposition of Duties Orders 132 and 133, set out at reference Nos. 2 and 3 in the Schedule, were consequential upon Order 131. The variation in the duty upon these woven piece goods involved consequential changes in the duties applying to articles manufactured from these goods. Emergency Imposition of Duty Order 134, at reference No. 4, is of minor consequence. It imposed a duty on heads for hoes. Emergency Imposition of Duties Order 135, at reference No. 5, altered the duty upon enamelled hollow ware. The manufacture of enamelled hollow ware has been proceeding in this country for some time. It was found that the existing duty was not sufficient to secure a substantial part of the market for the Irish made goods. Consequently, a variation of the duty was considered necessary, and that variation was effected by the Order. Emergency Imposition of Duties Order 136, at reference No. 6, has reference to the imposition of a duty upon certain woven tissues. Previously only woollen cloth exceeding a weight of 7 ounces per square yard was liable to the duty. Recently, the manufacture of cloths of a lighter weight was undertaken here, and, consequently, a variation in the scope of the duty was found necessary. The duty now applies to cloths exceeding a weight of 4½ ounces per square yard.

Emergency Imposition of Duties Order 137, at reference No. 7, is only of minor importance. It imposed a duty on certain component parts of sparking plugs. The duty previously applied to component parts made of metal. This extends the duty to component parts made of porcelain. Emergency Imposition of Duties Order No. 138, at reference No. 8, imposed a duty upon certain electrical apparatus. Arrangements having been made for the manufacture of electrical apparatus in this country, the duty was imposed early this year, and the Order imposing that duty has to be confirmed by this Bill. The classes of electrical apparatus referred to are: electrical heaters, fire radiators, tubular heaters, hot water radiators, smoothing irons, toasters and kettles, cooking rings and certain other apparatus of minor importance. Emergency Imposition of Duties Order 139, at reference No. 9, altered the duty upon certain glazed clay articles. The manufacture of domestic pottery was undertaken here by two firms, but during the course of 1937 it was found that a considerable inroad upon their market was being made in consequence of a substantial increase in the importation of articles of pottery from Japan and also from Great Britain. It was found that articles of low price and inferior quality were being imported in considerable numbers. These importations increased to such an extent as to cause a very serious position for the industry here the larger of the two factories to which I have referred actually having to close down for a period. It was considered desirable to give the industries an opportunity of expanding their production. They are well equipped to produce efficiently the requirements of the country to which this duty applies, and in order to enable them to do so properly it is considered that they should be secured a larger proportion of the market so that their equipment can be properly utilised on a larger output.

Emergency Imposition of Duties Order No. 142, at reference No. 10, effects only a minor change in the duty which applies to non-rubber dolls. The change involved is the insertion of a licensing provision. This enables a licence to be issued for the importation of these articles duty free, wherever it is clear that the home manufacturers are unable to supply the requirements. I do not know whether or not the Seanad desires to discuss these duties in any detail. If Senators so desire, perhaps it would be more appropriate to have that discussion on the Committee Stage. The Second Reading Stage of a measure of this kind must very largely be a formal matter, as no principle is involved except whatever principle was approved of when the power to impose duties by these orders was first conferred. That power has been utilised from time to time, and these Bills have appeared quite frequently before the Dáil and Seanad. They will, perhaps, appear equally frequent in the future. A suggestion was made at one time that, in the new circumstances, the Emergency Imposition of Duties Act should be repealed. I would not agree to that. I think that our circumstances—the size of our market and our proximity to Great Britain—make it necessary for us to have power to deal expeditiously with matters of this kind. What would be regarded as a normal consignment of goods in a much larger country might easily be sufficient to flood the market here and make internal production impossible. It is very difficult for us effectively to secure that, when new industrial projects are mooted, information concerning them will not reach members of the public who might be interested in forestalling a possible duty by bringing in consignments of the goods concerned.

Consequently, whatever form the power may take or whatever title may attach to the legislation under which the power is conferred, it will always be necessary for this country to have the means to impose customs duties with expedition at periods of the year when the Dáil is not meeting or when the nature of the Dáil programme does not permit of the more formal procedure of financial resolutions being adopted. It has always been the practice to keep for the annual Finance Bill any of these customs changes which could be kept over but circumstances frequently arise which make it impossible to adopt that course. That was the situation in relation to the Orders now before the Seanad. I mentioned that these orders run for a period of eight months before they have to be confirmed by the Dáil but, in respect of all but the first of these Orders, that eight-months period has still a long time to run. The only one of these Orders that is urgent is the first, which has to be confirmed before the 6th August, but we took advantage of this Bill to bring all the Orders pending before the Oireachtas so that both Houses would have the fullest opportunity of considering them.

I have personal knowledge of roughly half the Orders which are to be confirmed by this Bill. I am in favour of them and I do not propose to discuss them in detail. I have not got any knowledge of the other Orders and, therefore, cannot say whether I am in favour of them or not. I suggest to the Minister that the time will soon arrive when the Act under which these Orders are made should be revised. The Act was passed, if my recollection is correct, at the commencement of the economic war and, in its present form, is definitely undemocratic. At the same time, my own experience teaches that it would be a grave mistake to take away all power of prompt action in these matters from the Government. To that extent, I agree with the latter part of what the Minister has said, so far as I could follow him. In the future, I do not think that it should be possible to allow eight months to elapse. I confess that I have in mind the possibility that future Orders, following the recent Agreement, may be of a somewhat different character. To my mind, a three-month period would be quite sufficient. Instead of having an emergency measure like this working continuously, I think it would be better if there were a definite, well-thought-out Act which would be part of a general scheme and if duties, whether they were being reduced or increased, were brought in, say, four times a year for confirmation under that Act. Then, there could be public discussion. I agree that the old idea of having only one or two Bills in the year under which duties could be imposed was not satisfactory and would not be satisfactory in the future, though it might have certain advantages in view of possible changes downwards. I suggest that the Government ought carefully to consider whether it would not be better to bring in a new Bill which would serve the purposes of the Government better than the present one. It is a bad thing to continue a Bill when the circumstances which led to its introduction are happily ended.

Mr. Hayes

All that falls to be said about this kind of measure is what Senator Douglas has said. The Minister, in his opening statement, travelled over an enormous range of articles—almost literally from a needle to an anchor. He spoke of non-rubber dolls, smoothing irons, electric rings, and so forth. The principle of this Bill, as the Minister himself very well said, is really whether or not the Seanad agrees with the powers conferred on the Minister by the original Act. We are presented with an accomplished fact. The scheme, in its beginnings, was a war measure. It was intended to meet certain emergencies created by the economic conflict but not only are we now presented with an accomplished fact, but so is the Dáil. The Minister imposes a duty and when the Dáil comes to consider it some months later—perhaps eight months—it finds that vested interests have been created and that promises have even been given to citizens, who have invested their money in the enterprises concerned. It is difficult to dislodge these interests without a certain amount of injustice.

The time has arrived when the two Houses might be given more immediate control over this particular kind of duty. The present position really is that we have the imposition of duties by decree and that the submission of the Bill embodying these duties to either House is rather—as the Minister himself said—by way of formality. It allows of a discussion in either House when discussion is really not of any value. Having regard to the nature of the Government's tariff policy, there might be objections to the adoption of the older system, but it should surely be possible to find some method between the financial resolutions, passed before the duty can become operative, and allowing the matter to run for eight months. Perhaps the Minister can tell us that he is contemplating some change of that kind.

It is not altogether correct to say that legislation of this nature was originally introduced as a war measure. Prior to the Emergency Imposition of Duties Act, 1932, another Bill was introduced by the previous Government, designed to give somewhat similar powers. The wording of that Bill rendered it, in effect, inoperative. I think that there was only one order made under it—an order made by the present Government in 1932 relating to cut flowers. Subsequently, it was found that a question could be raised whether the circumstances contemplated by the wording of the Bill, in fact, existed when an order was made, and it was decided to introduce the Emergency Imposition of Duties Act, now in operation, which deleted the reference to "circumstances" and made the making of these orders possible at the discretion of the Government. I think it is essential that that power should be there. I do not know that it is altogether correct to say that the existence of these powers is contrary to democratic principles or that they can be used to create vested interests against which the Dáil or Seanad would be loath subsequently to vote. People act in industrial matters upon assurances given by the Government in office. They assume the ability of the Government to carry its intentions into effect. It has been my experience that companies and individuals will proceed with the investment of money in new industrial concerns upon an undertaking that, when the appropriate time comes, the necessary order will be made or the necessary resolution submitted to the Dáil. You do not avoid the creation of vested interests merely by adopting the old and more cumbersome procedure and dealing with these matters in the annual Finance Act.

In the case of the present series of orders, any of them that apply to new industries were made long after the actual investment of capital had been made—long after the concerns interested had commenced production. The imposition of the duties was, in fact, only effected when the supply of the goods concerned was available. Therefore, the position would have been precisely the same whether the Government had acted by way of order or delayed the matter until the Finance Act and proceeded by way of financial resolution. Something might be said for the shortening of the time within which the necessary confirming Bill must be brought to the Oireachtas. However, I do not think that very much can be said for it. The practice has always been to have these orders submitted for confirmation as early as possible, and it would seriously impede the work of the Dáil and Seanad if a separate Bill had immediately to be brought forward every time an order was made. The procedure adopted, as I have explained, has been: when one order becomes ripe for confirmation, the occasion is availed of to ask in the Bill for confirmation of every order pending, even though the most recent order may have been made only a week or a fortnight previously. I agree that these orders should be brought to the Oireachtas as soon as possible after they are made, but it is very difficult to commit the Government, in advance, to submitting a Bill every three months or at stated periods. There is not a regular output of these orders. They are occasioned by circumstances, and circumstances might necessitate the making of a number of them at one period, whereas, in a longer period, it might not be necessary to make any order.

However, if there is any desire to have the terms of the original Act reconsidered, I am sure the Government will be willing to have that done. Apart from the period within which the Orders must be confirmed, I cannot see what changes can be made. The Act merely gives the Government power to make these Orders, which have to be confirmed by the Oireachtas. The only change which could be made would be to set down in the Act the circumstances under which the Government could make an Order. That was tried in 1931 and proved to be impracticable. Those who have experience of legislation will know that, in such matters, it is always better to leave to the discretion of the party concerned the appropriateness of any decision to be taken. To attempt to set out in writing and embody in a statute the circumstances under which they are to act always creates subsequent doubts as to whether these circumstances, in fact, exist at a given time. If a suggestion is brought forward for amendment of the Act, I undertake that the Government will carefully consider it.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take the Committee Stage now.
Bill passed through Committee Stage and reported without recommendation.
Bill received for final consideration and ordered to be returned to the Dáil.