Defence Bill, 1951—Committee and Final Stages.

As no amendments have been submitted to this Bill, I naturally take it that the Seanad, having followed the discussions on the Bill in the Dáil and, probably having examined the Bill in the meantime, have found that it is in a satisfactory state, and for that reason no amendments have been submitted.


Question proposed: "That Section 1 stand part of the Bill."

On the section, may I say that the Bill is one which, I think, could hardly be discussed adequately by this House in the present position? Section 1 says that "This Act may be cited as the Defence Act, 1954." It has had a very long and chequered history and it comes to us at this moment when, if we were to amend it, we would hold it up and leave it to a new Dáil which will, quite obviously, however it is composed, have a great many other things on its mind besides the consideration of Seanad amendments to a Defence Bill. It will, for example, in the months of June and July, when it sits, have very serious financial business to do. I think, therefore, that even if we were to pass amendments to this Bill we could not hope that they would get adequate consideration in time.

It is only fair to say that the delay in bringing the Bill before us is not the fault of the Minister, and I am not in any way saying that it is. The Bill was delayed in the Dáil largely from the fact that a Special Committee met at great length. The proceedings of that Special Committee were, so to speak, re-hashed in the Dáil itself. In these circumstances I, personally, do not propose, and I do not know of anybody here who does propose, to go through the Bill. It has got very great consideration over a very long period of time.

The Minister has told us, and quite clearly he is correct, that, even if he gets the Bill to-day and if it becomes an Act within the next few days, it will still take several months before it will come into operation. I think that the Minister and the Department, having worked so hard on this Bill, should not be prevented from having it passed into an Act without further delay. It is not the last Defence Bill, presumably, that will be introduced. If flaws are found in it, then the Minister for Defence, or some Minister for Defence, will bring in amendments to it. The matter is not a Party matter, and has got, as I have said, very adequate consideration. In these circumstances, and seeing that this House itself is in a transition stage, I think that amendments could hardly be considered even if we were to pass them. Therefore, I suggest that we take the Committee Stage as rapidly as may be.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 2 to 10, inclusive, put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 11 stand part of the Bill."

On the section, there is just one point that I should like to raise in connection with national defence. The matter did not seem to me to involve the preparation of an amendment, but for my own peace of mind I should like to be quite clear on a situation that may arise and the precautions to be taken. Since this Bill originally came before the other House, discoveries have been made as well as developments in modern science which change the entire outlook of civilisation. In this section we are establishing a body to be called "The Council of Defence" whose purpose is to aid and counsel the Minister on all matters in relation to the business of the Department of Defence on which the Minister may consult the council. This council shall include two civil members. In my opinion, we also require a physicist and a biologist. My reason for saying that is that supposing Europe were to be involved in war and supposing there was an atomic explosion of radio-active material, we would be faced with all sorts of possible dangers as regards, say, the contamination of our atmosphere by radio-active fissionable material. Now, as a former chairman of a radio-active isotopes committee, I know something of these risks, and I certainly would feel much happier in my mind if I knew that the Council of Defence had at its disposal some technical experts to examine the possible dangers that our country may be exposed to and consider the possible remedies to be taken. The dangers may be remote. We hope they are remote, but at the same time we would not be excused if we neglected to take certain precautions. One obvious precaution is to get some of these counters for detecting contamination of the atmosphere. They are not particularly expensive but we do require them and experts to work them. I would feel greatly relieved if the Council of Defence had a few of these people at its disposal. The council consists of civil and military members and I believe that we ought have in being a committee of defence to examine the situation that may be imposed on us as an island people dedicated to the cause of peace by things that may happen in neighbouring countries or waters. That is the only point that I wish to discuss now but I think it is a very important one, and I feel it is my duty to raise it.

During the period of the emergency Senators will remember that there was set up a body known as the Defence Conference. That was confused to a very great extent with the Council of Defence, the titles being so similar. The Council of Defence is a body which is set up specifically to advise the Minister in respect of matters pertaining to the Army and other departmental affairs in connection with the Army. It would not consider questions such as those the Senator has raised, but I might point out that these are being dealt with, and have been dealt with, by the Civil Defence School which is in operation at the moment at Ratra House in the Phoenix Park, where there is quite a considerable staff and a number of them can be regarded as experts in respect of chemical and bacteriological and other forms of warfare. They are dealing with that, at the present moment, and not only dealing with it, but attending courses in other countries and endeavouring to find out all it is possible to find out about that type of danger.

The Civil Defence School is, as its title suggests, established there for the purpose of disseminating all that knowledge to the various representatives of local authorities throughout the country. That has been going on to a very great extent. Recently, we inaugurated a class for the heads of branches of the Civil Service. So, you see, we are, to some extent, making some progress in regard to the likely danger that may arise from the matters of which the Senator has been speaking. I have no doubt whatever that in the event of a war in which there is a likelihood of the nation being affected by radiation, or any other such matter we would have to bring in experts as we had to do during the last emergency. We brought in experts on different aspects of the defence situation and these people were always available to the Army authorities for consultation, and I have no doubt that arrangement would be followed in due course in the event of any such happenings as the Senator suggests.

I welcome the information the Minister has given and I am considerably relieved. We ought not wait for an emergency to occur. If there is something we must do about these possible dangers, it is our duty to see that it is being done.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 12 to 318 inclusive agreed to.
First Schedule to Tenth Schedule inclusive and the Title agreed to.
Agreed to take the remaining stages now.
Question—"That the Bill be received for final consideration"—put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass"

I should like to say, first of all, how grateful I am to members of the Seanad for taking this Bill in the manner in which they have taken it. It is a very lengthy Bill, a highly technical Bill and not a Bill to the consideration of which one would expect every person to devote himself. In the Dáil we were in the happy position that there were quite a number of ex-officers who were members of that Assembly. From that point of view, they were regarded as being in a position in which they could debate at least some of the technicalities of this Bill but even membership of the Army did not render them capable of comprehending the Bill fully. It was really only those who had, in addition to Army membership, administrative experience, and administrative experience of an inside type, who were able to discuss the Bill in the highly technical manner in which it was discussed throughout the debate in the other House.

I am wondering whether Senators realise that this is, in my opinion, at any rate, a rather historic occasion because by this measure we are giving the nation for the first time a permanent Army. This Bill does for the first time give to this nation another permanent institution, in the form of a standing Army. Henceforth it can be said that we have a permanent Army. Heretofore, I had the honour of coming here on no less than 11 occasions to ask the Seanad to grant permission to me, as Minister for Defence, to allow the Army to remain in existence for the succeeding 12 months. That permission was usually forthcoming with the least possible difficulty for me. On a number of occasions it was necessary to bring in amendments to the Temporary Provisions Bill but these were usually discussed and passed with the least possible delay. Most of these amendments have now been incorporated in this Bill.

During the emergency, we did secure a vast amount of experience, the result of which has now been embodied in one form or another in the various sections of the Bill, so that the Bill is in effect the outcome of the experience of the 30 odd years of the Army's existence. Any provision that was regarded as being desirable arising out of that experience, is now incorporated in the Bill. The Bill will in future become what I might describe as the Standing Orders of the Army. It will confer a very great benefit on the administrative officers of the Army who had to be guided on numerous occasions by the old Acts which were, as I described on a former occasion, a mass of clippings—various amendments just stuck into the original Act, the old portions that were being amended being obliterated, and the other pieces just stuck in. Senators can realise the difficulties of endeavouring to administer such an instrument. Now, as a result of the long discussion which has taken place with respect to this Bill the Army will have at its disposal a much easier means of administration. Beyond saying these few words and again expressing my appreciation of the manner in which the Seanad has dealt with the measure, I do not think it is necessary for me to say anything further.

Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad adjourned at 3.40 p.m.sine die.