This Bill is necessary because, though the emergency which gave rise to the Emergency Powers Act of 1939, may have passed, the conditions created by the emergency and affecting the life of the community in many respects still persist to a very large extent. Many commodities in everyday use are still scarce and in the interests of consumers their distribution must be controlled by the continuance of the rationing schemes applied to them while the worst phase of the emergency conditions were with us. Moreover, the scarcity of commodities essential in the everyday life of the community requires that the specific powers taken for the control of prices should be continued, and it will be within the knowledge of Senators that in numerous other directions restrictions are necessary in the general interests, such as, for instance, those applied to dealings in foreign exchange.
The Government are anxious to retain only those powers which will enable effective control to be exercised in the directions where that control is still required and the Orders which, in fulfilment of this object, are regarded as necessary to continue in operation, have been set out in an explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill. Already a number of powers taken under the Emergency Powers Act have been relinquished and, as soon as it is safe to do so, other powers will be relinquished. In the appendix on page 7 of the explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill will be found a list of the articles of the Emergency Powers (No. 1) Order, 1939, which it is proposed to continue. Only nine articles are to be so continued out of the 91 included in the Order as first made. The appendix to the explanatory memorandum lists in numerical order the Governmental Orders made under the Emergency Powers Act of 1939 and the Emergency Powers Order of 1939, which are to be continued. Orders now in existence and continued under the Bill can be amended up to the appointed day, but after the appointed day Orders can only be made by the Government under Section 2 of the Bill in relation to the specific matters set out in Section 2. Any of the existing Orders which relates to a matter not specifically covered under Section 2 of the Bill will not be capable of amendment after the appointed day, which will be the 2nd September. Such an Order can only be revoked.
The matters which can be covered by Government Orders to be made under the powers conferred by this Bill are detailed in Section 2. Briefly, they cover rationing, control of exports and imports, currency restrictions, the compulsory tillage of land, the production of turf, the facilitation of the financing of purchases of essential goods by the special purchasing companies set up for that purpose and, finally, the reduction or suspension of customs duties on certain articles. It is well to repeat that after the 2nd September the Government will have no power to make Orders save in relation to the matters which I have mentioned.
The preceding remarks relate almost entirely to Orders made by the Government. In addition, as Senators are aware, numerous subsidiary Orders were made by Ministers under powers conferred by Government Orders. These subsidiary Orders continue in force either until they are specifically revoked or until the main Government Orders under which they were made have been revoked. A large number of these subsidiary Orders has limited application and, for this reason as well as the fact that many of them are of short duration, they have not been listed in the explanatory memorandum. These Orders deal, among other things, with the details of rationing, the control of prices, and such like matters covering conditions arising out of the emergency. A list of all these Orders of more than passing interest as well as of Government Orders in force at the 31st December, 1945, was published early this year as an index to the Emergency Powers Order. It is proposed within a short period after the 2nd September next to reissue this index with brief particulars of all the Government and subsidiary Orders which will be in force at the 2nd September. The same policy will apply to subsidiary Orders as that which I have mentioned applies to Government Orders, namely, that they will be revoked immediately the need for them has passed. That need is being constantly reviewed in all Departments.
Under the Emergency Powers Act and the Emergency Powers Order it was provided that Orders made by the Government should be laid before each House of the Oireachtas, and there was power to annul. The Bill now before the House not only makes similar provision in relation to Government Orders but extends the provision to cover Ministerial or subsidiary Orders. Similar provisions to those in Section 8 of the Emergency Powers Act with regard to the charging of fees are contained in the Bill. Fees have been charged on the issue of licences, permits and certificates and, in accordance with the undertaking given at the time the Emergency Powers Act was under consideration, these fees have been fixed at such amounts as to cover only the costs of administration of the schemes in respect of which the licences, permits and certificates were issued. Any fees at present payable will continue at the amounts heretofore fixed.
The provisions in Section 6 of the Bill dealing with offences, prosecutions and punishments merely re-enact existing provisions in respect of these matters. I should refer at this stage to the provision in sub-section (9) of Section 6 which exempts summary proceedings for an offence under Section 6 from the limitations imposed by sub-section (4) of Section 10 of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851. Under Section 10 (4) of the 1851 Act, summary proceedings must be initiated within six months after the date of the offence. It was found that this limitation militated against the enforcement of many of the powers taken to cope with emergency conditions affecting the life of the community. In particular it was found that the enforcement of the compulsory tillage regulations could not be operated with this six months' limit because inspection of holdings to see if the statutory requirements were fulfilled could not be undertaken until after a fixed date (18th July each year) and that was the date by reference to which the commission of the offence was determined. In the debate in Dáil Eireann it was represented that it was inequitable to the defendants to defer the taking of summary proceedings for an undue period after the date on which the offence was alleged to have been committed. It is recognised that these representations had much force behind them, and it is proposed on Committee Stage in the Seanad to introduce an amendment, the effect of which will be to extend the period of six months, as fixed by the Act of 1851, to 12 months but not further.
Though the shortages in supplies of very essential goods still exist, there are signs of improvement in the supply position in certain directions. For instance, it was possible to increase the tea ration and to relax the provisions of the clothes rationing Orders. It is hoped that the improvement will continue and that before many months the stage will have been reached when rationing may be abandoned. That stage has not yet been reached and consequently I feel confident that the Seanad will recognise the need for this Bill, as one of its main purposes is to secure fair distribution of goods in short supply. The Bill will be in operation only until the 1st September, 1947, and will not be continued beyond that date unless the circumstances which have necessitated its introduction still persist. In such an event, legislation will have to be introduced.