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.