The purpose of this Bill is to extend for a short period the provisions of the Tea (Importation and Distribution) Act, 1956. The Act which I have mentioned governs the present temporary arrangements for implementing the policy of importing this country's tea requirements direct from the countries in which tea is grown. This policy has been in continuous operation since April, 1947, and has been implemented through Tea Importers, Limited, a State-sponsored body, the purchases of which are financed by banking accommodation guaranteed by the Minister for Finance. This Act will expire on the 31st March, 1958.
The Seanad will be aware that a Bill providing for permanent arrangements for the importation of tea is at present before the Dáil. As the permanent arrangements contemplated in that Bill could not be brought into operation before the 31st March, 1958, and possibly not until the 1st July, 1958, there might be a period of up to three months during which there would be no control on the importation of tea unless the 1956 Act be continued for the limited period proposed in the Bill now before the Seanad. The present Bill is necessary, therefore, to ensure that there will be no interruption in the importation of this country's tea requirements direct from the producing countries until the permanent arrangements, which have yet to come before the Seanad, can be brought into operation.
A very important consideration in connection with this Bill is that Tea Importers, Limited hold substantial stocks of tea purchased by the company for distribution to the trade. The absence of control on the importation of tea even for such a short period as three months would undoubtedly facilitate the dumping in this country of inferior grades of last season tea bought in London or elsewhere at reduced prices. When placed on the Irish market such purchases could adversely affect in a serious manner sales of the stocks of Tea Importers, Limited and involve that company in substantial losses which would, of course, have to be borne by the Exchequer on foot of the guarantee by the Minister for Finance and eventually by the taxpayer. This Bill obviates that risk.
In conclusion, I wish to emphasise that, in recommending this Bill to the favourable consideration of the House, I am asking no more than that the Seanad should agree to the present temporary arrangements for importing tea being continued until arrangements of a permanent nature can be brought into operation within a period of three months from 31st March, 1958.