I am asking the Seanad to give this Bill a Second Reading. Senators, I think, are fairly well aware of the circumstances in which I have felt compelled to bring this Bill before the Oireachtas. The object of it is to prevent certain provisions of the Income Tax Bill of 1966 coming into effect, when the Bill, as a whole, comes into effect. As the House is aware, the Income Tax Bill of 1966 is a consolidation measure and, as such, it must restrict itself to reproducing the existing statute law. Most Senators are familiar with our consolidation processes and the machinery by which we attempt to consolidate our statute law from time to time.
Under our Standing Orders, it is not possible to include in a consolidation measure any substantitive amendment of existing law, whether by addition or substraction. The Joint Committee of both Houses which considered the Bill was obliged to work within those terms of reference. I want to make this point perfectly clear and to refute any suggestion that the Government, the Oireachtas or the Committee were in any way at fault in the handling of the consolidation measure. The Committee, which included Members of this House as well as Members of the Dáil, did a very excellent job in considering a complex piece of legislation. Indeed, it is a measure of the thoroughness with which the Members performed the task allotted to them by the Oireachtas that they, in fact, did specifically advert to the doubtful constitutional validity of some of the provisions of the Bill. However, they were unable to make any specific amendments of the existing law. They did specifically refer to section 483 which dealt with the power of the Revenue Commissioners to lodge a person in gaol for the non-payment of income tax. When that issue was raised with the Committee, I informed the Committee that I would undertake to look at the section concerned. I also gave them an assurance that I would either repeal the section entirely or else modify it in some way which would make it acceptable to the Oireachtas, in the first instance, and make it conform— in so far as our judgment to measure this matter was competent—to the constitutional requirements. I am very glad to be able to say that the Committee unhesitatingly accepted my assurance and the Bill was duly returned to both Houses of the Oireachtas on that basis.
However, when the Bill went to the President for signature he had—as indeed had some members of the Committee—some doubts apparently as to certain provisions in the Bill and he decided, in accordance with the Constitution, to consult the Council of State with a view to referring the matter to the Supreme Court to test it. In these circumstances, it seemed to me and to the Government that the sensible thing to do at this stage was to bring in a Bill to the Oireachtas seeking to delete from the consolidation Bill, when it will become law, the provisions which have given rise to doubts, so that we will be able to have the benefit of this consolidation measure as and from the 6th April next. I think this is something which everybody desires. It is something which is eagerly awaited by a large section of the business and professional community and it would be a pity if we did not succeed now at this late stage in having this enacted into law.
It is for that simple reason I am asking the Seanad to give me the Second Reading now and I hope they will be kind enough to give me all Stages today so that the Bill may go to the President for signature this evening. As I explained in the Dáil, we have got into a difficult parliamentary situation by virtue, if you like, of two more or less conflicting matters or requirements. On the one hand, we have our own procedure for consolidating our law. It is very specific and it compels both Houses of the Oireachtas and Committees of both Houses to operate within very strict and clearly defined lines. We cannot change the law.
That is one of the sets of circumstances which are operating on us in this situation. The other, of course, is the necessity for legislation to conform with the requirements of the Constitution. It is in an endeavour to find a path between these conflicting requirements that this measure is before us and I hope the Seanad will see it as I do, namely, as a sensible parliamentary device to enable us to get ahead with this worthwhile piece of consolidation legislation which is eagerly awaited by so many people.