The Air Navigation and Transport Act, 1936, provided for the payment of subsidies to the company established under that Act for the operation of air transport services during a period of five years from the date of the passing of the Act. That limitation of the period during which subsidies might be paid was imposed because of the absence of experience as to the financial results of the operation of air transport services here and the desirability of ensuring that the position could be reviewed by the Oireachtas after the passage of a reasonable period.
That period has now elapsed, but it is still necessary to maintain subsidy-payments to the air transport companies. The normal development of air transport services here was considerably interrupted by the outbreak of war and it is not feasible to operate them on a paying basis. The Act imposed a limit of £500,000 on the amount which might be expended on subsidies. In practice, that limit has not nearly been reached because the developments contemplated in connection with transatlantic air services have not occurred. Something less than £100,000 has been paid in subsidies to date. It is, consequently, unnecessary to change the limit of the total amount in the Principal Act but it is desirable to extend the period during which subsidies may be paid. That is the purpose of this Bill.
The only other change — a slight change — effected by the Bill relates to the submission of subsidy orders to the Dáil. As the Act stands, subsidies cannot be paid until either the Order has been approved of by resolution of Dáil Eireann or 21 sitting days have elapsed. That provision has been a matter of some inconvenience both to the Department of Industry and Commerce and the air companies. It is proposed now that the subsidies be paid when the Order is made without, of course, interfering with the power of the Oireachtas to annul any subsidy order. When the emergency is over and the question of the development of civil air services on a larger scale arises it will, of course, be necessary to come again to the Oireachtas to explain the Government's programme in that regard. But it is desirable that existing arrangements remain unchanged for the time being and, consequently, it is necessary to extend the period of the subsidy in the manner proposed in this Bill which I recommend to the House.