Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 19 Jul 1945

Vol. 30 No. 5

Documents and Pictures (Regulation of Export) Bill, 1945—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Bille beag isea an Bille seo ach tá práinn leis. This is a short Bill, but I regard its passage into law at the earliest possible date as important. There is a danger, I am informed, of a valuable collection of papers—a collection which I think is unique—being lost to the country. For some time past, the Government had been considering the taking of steps to put the collection of national documents and their proper keeping on a sound basis. There is a general scheme in contemplation for the setting up of a national archive. We have found it necessary, however, to proceed with this measure to deal with the situation to which I have referred. The situation could be approached by making it impossible to export articles or documents of value to the country, but we have considered that that might impose too great a liability upon the owners of papers or other valuable objects.

We had also the alternative of leaving matters entirely free, as they have been during the past 50 years. A considerable number of valuable documents have been lost to the country and, as we are not as rich in some records as other countries, it is necessary that we should collect whatever is valuable. We have been placed in the unfortunate position in recent years that valuable documents of which no copy was available were sent out of the country and the National Library has had to buy them back in the London market at greatly enhanced prices. Under this Bill, export is not completely prohibited but a person who wishes to export a document or paper of 100 years old or over or a document or paper in respect of which I make an Order applying the provisions of the Act to it, even though it be less than 100 years old, will have to procure an export licence from me. I may ask him to permit a photographic copy or copies to be made of the document or series of documents. If I make that request, the exporter will not be allowed to export the document or documents until the copy will have been made. I have introduced an amendment in the Bill to make sure that the copies will be made within a reasonable time. As a matter of fact, copies can be made within a few hours. Even a very large collection of documents can be copied in a day or two days, so that there need be no great delay. Copies will be made either by ordinary camera, in the case of larger papers or drawings, or by microfilm, which is used in the National Library pretty constantly, in the case of a large number of documents. When a copy is made under Section 3 (1) the Minister must permit the article to be exported.

There is no Section 3 (1) in the Bill.

I should have said Section 3.

I think that this Bill is sound and is a very happy compromise between complete prohibition of export and free export. Complete prohibition might mean that many attempts would be made to evade the law. There are a few points which I should like the Minister to elucidate. Section 2 (1) (b) refers to any "painting". Would a coloured map be considered a painting? It is frequently necessary for solicitors to put maps on deeds. If a solicitor is sending a modern deed out of the country to be executed and it contains a map, will that be a "painting" within the meaning of the paragraph and must he obtain a licence to export it?

Under sub-section (2), of the same section, if the Minister has in mind a particular document, as I believe he has, there should be a provision that the Minister would forthwith furnish the owner with a copy of the Order. It would not be fair to expect the owner to be aware of the Order unless he had been given a copy of it. I mention all these matters because I fully appreciate that there is urgency in connection with the Bill, from the Minister's point of view, and I may save time by mentioning them now.

Under Section 3, it is provided that "it shall not be lawful for any person to export...". Suppose that section is infringed, what is the penalty? I cannot see where the penalty is prescribed. It appears to me that no penalty is provided in the Bill. Whether these offences are automatically brought under some other Acts, such as the Customs Acts, I do not know. I do not think that they would be so brought without a section stating that this Act was to be construed as one with the Customs Acts. Senator O'Dea may be able to give me some enlightenment on that question. I think that some penalty should be prescribed or that there should be express provision that the Act is to be construed with the Customs Acts. I cannot deal with this section in detail until I know the Minister's answer to that question. This is a Bill against which a person might easily offend with the best will in the world and without realising that he had offended. I think that this is a case in which it should be necessary to prove that not only has there been a breach of the law but that there has been mens rea— guilty intent. It should be necessary to prove that the person knew, or should reasonably have known, that the document was over 100 years old. It would be only in respect of that matter that the point would arise. It would be unfair to obtain a conviction where a man had attempted to export an article which he did not know was over 100 years old. The Minister will agree that there must be many documents in respect of which it is difficult to say whether they are 90 years old or 100 years old.

An attempt should be made to see that this Bill is administered in such a way as to cause as little inconvenience as possible. If a large collection of articles were being sent from Mayo to America, by liner from Galway, the Minister should not make a request that they should be all sent on to Dublin to be copied and then sent back to Galway. He should make arrangements to have the copying done on the spot. Subject to those remarks, I have no objection to the Bill.

I feel that this is a much more important Bill than the Minister indicated. I do not know what the urgency of the matter is. So far as I listened to the debate, it turned merely on documents. There has not been much elaboration of the provision with regard to paintings. I can see a good reason why a valuable historical document should be subject to control, but when I see a reference to "any painting", without reference to age, I begin to wonder what it involves. Suppose that the last survivor of an old Irish family dies and his inheritance passes to some person outside the country. That inheritance will include a number of family possessions. It may include old furniture as valuable as any paintings. The whole of that property, in the ordinary course of the disposal of the estate, should go outside the country. I presume that these articles would be allowed to go. Is it suggested that every single painting should have to be submitted to the examination of the Minister or his officials and that a photograph should have to be made of the painting? Evidently, until the photograph has been taken, the export will not be allowed.

I think that the matter requires more careful examination than it has had. As I read the provision at present, it is absurd. There might be a work by a school-girl which might have some value for family reasons, but which would have no historical value. I have left one or two pictures to members of my family who are out of the country. Before they go, under my will, to members of my family, will they have to be submitted to the Minister and will this elaborate procedure have to be gone through? I think it is intolerable that we should be passing into this state of control and regulation. Until I hear more from the Minister, I shall use all my efforts to have this matter fully investigated. This Bill has been hurriedly drawn without regard to the irritation it will cause to members of the public who have no desire to export articles of historical value but who claim the right to move about the world and to move their possessions without restrictions of this kind. We cannot regard ourselves as living in a small watertight compartment, with everything we hold subject to the sanction of the Minister, irrespective of the circumstances of its holding or the value of it.

I agree with Senator Sweetman that there is no sanction in this Bill and that there ought to be. The Bill is complete in itself and does not refer to any other Acts. Therefore, the penalty ought to be prescribed in the Bill. Possibly, a statement as to the confiscation of the documents, if it is desired that they should be confiscated, should be included in the Bill. It might be desirable to have a closer definition of "painting". "Document" is described all right. It may be desirable to prevent the exportation of certain printed papers. The Minister has power to make an Order referring to certain documents but it is doubtful that he can prevent the exportation of documents which are all in print. That matter should be considered before the Committee Stage.

I do not think that we are interested in modern books. The general feeling is that, since 1870, our affairs are fairly well documented in easily accessible records—newspapers and books. It is the older matter in which we are chiefly interested. As regards the point that if an Order be made under Section 2 (2) a copy of the Order should be furnished to the owner of the document, I shall see if it is possible to bring in an amendment. There may be difficulty in identifying the owner. We may know that a particular document is here but its exact whereabouts may not be known. If we had a complete register of all documents, matters might be simpler but the trouble is that, if we wait for information, the documents may be gone. A coloured drawing on a deed would, I think, come under the definition "painting", as in the Bill at present. I have not been able to get a satisfactory definition of painting. No definition is known to the lawyers. This Act will be administered by customs officers. Even if it were possible to define a painting of historical interest, I doubt that a customs officer would be able to say, if the definition were a technical one, whether a particular picture would come within its terms or not. We have gone into this matter with the draftsman and we have not been able to get a satisfactory definition.

Would the Minister say a "painting on canvas"?

Or an oil-painting.

Some of these valuable paintings are on panels. The whole matter requires closer examination.

It has received consideration. On Committee Stage, it may have to be accepted, from my point of view, that a closer definition of painting is not possible. I suggest to Senator Keane, in that event, that the persons whom he has in mind should remember that Section 4 merely prescribes that the Minister may request the applicant for an export licence to afford him facilities to make a copy. The Minister may not ask for a copy. To meet the case of persons who might be importing pictures for the purpose of an exhibition in Dublin and sending them back immediately afterwards, I put in a special clause in Section 2 whereby the Minister may declare that any particular document or painting, or any document or painting belonging to a particular class, shall be excluded from the operation of the Act. If persons who wish to export paintings are not satisfied that they will get a fair deal from the Minister— where the painting is not of historical value, they will not even be asked for leave to make a copy—I can only refer them to the fact that I have power to exempt a particular picture or class of pictures from the provisions of the Bill. The number of dealers in pictures and documents is rather small. I have no wish to hamper them in their ordinary business, but it may happen that one painting or document out of 50 is of some value from the historical point of view. We shall merely make a photographic reproduction which will not reduce the value of the painting. We may wish to have a record of the painter's work. A picture might be of little artistic value but might be of great historical value.

Under the provision I have referred to, I do not think we are going to impose any hardship on owners. That is not the intention. If an owner does not facilitate us in making a copy, when we consider that a copy is necessary, we have to invoke the section. Our legal advisers tell me that Section 3 of the Customs (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1945, provides a penalty for exporting anything which it is illegal to export under any enactment. The penalty would be three times the value of the document or painting, or £100 as the Revenue Commissioners may decide.

That Act only runs for five years.

That may be so. As a matter of fact we had contemplated bringing this provision under that Act, but we decided otherwise. I am advised that that penalty will apply.

Is there any danger that some person with a valuable document might be prohibited from exporting it, if it could be sold at a certain price, which it would not be possible for the Minister to pay?

We are only asking to be allowed to make a copy. We are not interfering unless an owner refuses to allow us to make a copy.

Can the Minister say if under the section of the Act of 1945 a man before being convicted must have been aware that he was committing a breach of the Act?

I must look into that. Unfortunately the Act has not been printed. I shall look into the matter before the next stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for Wednesday, July, 25th.
Business suspended at 6.35 and resumed at 7.30 p.m.