I should like to welcome this Bill from the point of view which was put by the Minister in introducing it, that is to say, that it improves the mechanics whereby duties can be imposed, makes the machinery more smooth, and, at least in several cases, more explicit. On the whole, therefore, we are all agreed that it is a good Bill and one to be welcomed, and that it represents the kind of clearing up and consolidating legislation which improves the Statute Book.
I should like to agree with Senator McGuire in two things he said—one in relation to the standard of efficiency behind the tariff wall among our manufacturers, and secondly, the necessity to look forward towards entry into the European market and to consider whether with the imposition of too heavy duties, we may be unfitting ourselves to participate in or to calculate on entering any such scheme. When, in other words, under such a Bill as this, new duties are being imposed, I should like the Minister to consider very carefully the rate of duty, and whether a heavy rate of duty is really necessary or not, and whether it might not be possible, as I have suggested before, particularly in relation to new industry, to introduce some kind of process whereby the protective duty would be on a diminishing scale down the years, in the belief that the early years are more difficult for any new industry, and that they might consequently require a higher rate of duty during those early years.
I noticed in recent weeks several new duties imposed. I noticed, for instance, a duty of 6/- each on men's shirts of value not exceeding 8/-. That is a 75 per cent. duty on very cheap men's shirts. I cite that as one example. A similar example is a duty of 4/- each on boys' shirts not exceeding 5/- in value—an even higher percentage on a very cheap shirt. Is the Minister sufficiently considering whether those rates of duties are not too high, and whether in fact such duties are not putting too heavy a burden on the poorer sections of our community?
Similarly, I think I am right in saying that a fresh duty on powered farm-machinery of certain kinds was introduced the other day at the rate of 37½ per cent. On previous occasions, I have tried in the Seanad without getting much support to question that kind of duty, because I regarded it as an impost on the farming community for the benefit of the manufacturing community. While we all recognise that the manufacturing community requires, in our special circumstances, some protection, it is very dangerous to give them over-protection, both because, as Senator McGuire suggested, their efficiency may not be as high in those circumstances as it would otherwise be, and because at some future day we shall have to be competing more actively with European competitors.
I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions which arise on the Bill, probably more from the fact that I may not have fully grasped the implications than from any lack of clarity in the Bill. The first question I should like to ask is in relation to paragraph (d) of Section 1, which refers to the imposition of duty upon an object which requires the "taking out of a licence for the doing of any particular thing." I am not quite sure whether that gives the Minister power to impose a duty and to require that a licence for import be required. "The doing of any particular thing," I suppose, includes the importing of some article? There is reference in Section 3 to the importation of goods by licence, and that may be the sort of thing that is referred to under paragraph (d) of Section 1.
The reason I ask this is that I have felt in the past that there is a danger implicit in giving power to the Minister to place a duty upon an article and then allowing certain people to import that article duty free in certain circumstances. I believe that I am right in saying that that is evident in relation to the wireless trade—the imposition of a duty on certain component parts. I understand that some importers have a licence under some such section as this to import free of duty. That leads, I believe, to a position of privilege for certain members of such trades. I am not suggesting that it is necessarily abused, but I am suggesting that it is capable of abuse, and I am not sure that it is a good principle to say that, where certain goods are subject to duty, we will make an exception for certain people. I can see the case being made for the exemption of certain goods from the application of the duty, but to say that we will make an exception for certain people seems to me to be a most dangerous thing.
The second point I should like to raise is in connection with sub-section (1) of Section 2. There are two points here. One is that I notice that every Order under Section 1 shall have statutory effect, and so on, unless the Order "is confirmed by Act of the Oireachtas passed not later than the end of the year following" and so on. The Minister made the point that under the provisions of the 1932 Act the confirmation by Act of the Oireachtas had to be within eight months. The term under Section 2 of the 1932 Act is that it must be confirmed within eight months "after the making thereof", not after the end of the year during which it is made, as here.
This new section and sub-section could make rather more of a difference than has so far been adverted to, because if those Orders have to be confirmed not later than the end of the year following that in which the Orders are made, they may not be confirmed for 23 months instead of eight months. If I am correct, if an Order is made in January of one year, it does not have to be confirmed until the end of the following year, some 23 months later, so that the change being made is not a change from eight months to a year but from eight months to possibly 23 months. I wonder has the Minister fully realised that, and does he see justification for quite such a long period before an Order of this kind has to be confirmed?
Again, I am not sure that I am right, but it does seem to me that this section implies that an Order made under Section 1 "merely revoking wholly an Order previously made under that section" does not have to be confirmed at all by the Oireachtas.
In the debate in the other House, as reported in Volume 161, column 1341, for 15th May, 1957, Deputy Cosgrave asked the Minister if, when an Order is made revoking a customs duty, that Order has to be brought before the House; and the Minister replied "Yes." As I read this particular sub-section, it seems to me that the answer is "No," because this sub-section says that an Order has to be "either" confirmed by an Act "or revoked wholly" by an Order under this section, I do not see anywhere in this Bill any mandatory suggestion that a revoking Order must be put before the Oireachtas. That may be because I am not reading it correctly, and I ask the question for clarification. Is it necessary, as the Minister said in the Dáil, for a revoking Order to be passed by the Oireachtas or to be brought before the House?
The next point on which I would like information is in regard to sub-section (2) of this same Section 2, which has in fact precisely the same wording as the equivalent section of the 1932 Act. What it says is that no Order under Section 1 which ceases, and so on,
"or which is revoked by Order under section, shall be capable of being continued or renewed by any other Order made."
As I read that, it means that if an Order under Section 1 is revoked by Order, never again in the history of the country can such an Order be reintroduced. I wonder if that is intended, and, if so, why it has to be so strong? I could imagine a case where a duty is imposed upon an article, and circumstances arise in which it was a good thing for a period of years to revoke that duty, and where circumstances might arise again in which it would be a good thing to put that duty on again.
I may be misreading that sub-section, but it seems to me that it prohibits the Minister from ever putting on again a duty once it has been revoked. It says that "no Order under Section 1 which is revoked by Order under Section 1 shall be capable of being continued or renewed by any other Order made under that section."
One final question which I should like to ask is in relation to Section 4. Section 4 deals with the laying of these statutory Orders before the Houses of the Oireachtas. It says:
"Every Order under Section 3 shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and, if a resolution is passed by either House within the next 21 days upon which that House has sat after the Order has been laid before it annulling the Order, the Order shall be annulled accordingly but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder."
The question I want to ask is why this section refers only to Orders made under Section 3. Why should it not refer also to Orders made under Section 1? It seems to me that the major Orders in this Bill are those made under Section 1. Orders of relatively minor importance are made under Section 3, but it is only those Orders which by statute must be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and which the Houses of the Oireachtas apparently shall have the power to annul.
It may be that under some other Act it is necessary for Orders made under Section 1 to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, but I am a bit puzzled as to the framing of this Section 4, and the fact that it refers only to Orders under Section 3.
I should be grateful to the Minister if he would clarify those points when he is replying.