The purpose of this Bill is to give to the Minister for Industry and Commerce power to control the export of industrial goods and raw materials, and it might fairly be described as the industrial counterpart of the Agriculture and Fishery Products (Regulation of Exports) Act, 1947.
Power of the nature sought to be afforded by the Bill is already available to the Minister for Industry and Commerce under the Supplies and Services (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1946, but I have felt it desirable to provide a firmer basis for powers, the necessity for which arose largely out of the emergency conditions which prevailed from 1939 onwards.
The scope of the powers exercised under the emergency legislation has been continuously narrowed by removing from export control, as soon as it was possible to do so, goods in relation to which supply problems were no longer likely to arise. There remains, however, a short list of essential industrial raw materials, including, for example, timber, aluminium scrap and waste paper which are still in short supply and the unrestricted export of which could seriously disrupt our industrial production and our industrial employment. These shortages can no longer be regarded as being entirely due to emergency conditions, but they serve to underline the necessity to have available powers of export control based otherwise than on the abnormal and transient situation provided for by the Supplies and Services Act. As I have already informed the Dáil, that Act will be repealed as soon as it is possible to enact the necessary permanent legislation to replace the powers still required to be exercised under it, and the present Bill may be regarded as a step in this direction.
Apart from enabling export control to be exercised over essential industrial materials which are at present in short supply, the Bill is intended also to provide the powers necessary to deal with a situation in which, because of the development of an international emergency, it might become vitally necessary to impose export restrictions at short notice, so as to avoid a disastrous drain on our supplies of essential materials. Irreparable damage could easily be done to the whole economy of the country if it were necessary, in such an eventuality, to await the enactment of special corrective legislation by the Oirechtas.
There is a third reason why it has become necessary to seek the provision of continuing powers to control exports. As part of our contribution towards international peace, it is necessary to ensure that strategic raw materials are not exported from this country to Iron Curtain countries, or that this country is not made a base for such exports. The Bill provides, accordingly, that the export of specified goods to a specified destination may be prohibited by Order.
At present, the export of sheepskin is controlled under the Sheepskin (Control of Exports) Acts, 1934 and 1938, and the export of scrap iron is controlled by the Scrap Iron (Control of Export) Act, 1938. These Acts will no longer be necessary on the passing of the present Bill, and accordingly the Bill provides for their repeal.
In approaching this question of export control outside of emergency conditions, I was fully conscious of the possibility that such a power could or might be used autocratically or in such a manner as to represent an unwarranted interference with the people's rights and liberties. To minimise the risks in this direction, I have introduced into the Bill three separate safeguards. Firstly, the Bill provides that the Act shall continue in force for a period of three years and shall then expire. If experience shows that it would be desirable to continue the provisions of the measure beyond that time, it will be necessary to introduce new legislation for the purpose. Secondly, every Order made under the Act shall cease to have effect on the expiration of 12 months from its commencement. If new Orders have then to be made, the Oireachtas will be regularly reminded of the materials remaining subject to export control. Finally, every Order made under the Act is required to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and may be annulled by resolution of either House at any time during its currency. These safeguards should satisfy even the most critical of Senators that there is no sinister motive or intention behind this Bill. By their inclusion, the Bill may, I think, fairly be described as a noncontroversial measure and it is on this basis that I commend it to the favourable consideration of the House.