Seanad Éireann - Volume 102 - 07 December, 1983

Control of Exports Bill, 1983: Second and Subsequent Stages.

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

Minister of State at the Department of Trade, Commerce and Tourism (Mr. M. Moynihan): The purpose of this Bill is to continue in force, on a permanent basis, the statutory powers in the Control of Exports (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1956, as renewed from time to time; to provide that orders made under the legislation may be of permanent duration; to extend the time limit within which proceedings for summary offences may be brought, and to provide for increased penalties for offences.

The Control of Exports (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1956 was enacted originally for a period of three years. As the need for the legislation has continued to exist the Act has been renewed under various continuance Acts. The most recent of these was the Control of Exports (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1956 (Continuance) Act, 1982 which extended the operation of the 1956 Act for a period of one year until 31 December 1983. That particular measure was the eighth renewal of the Act.

The Act empowers the Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism to prohibit, by Order, the export of industrial goods of any description save under licence issued by him. In accordance with the Act such Orders have a life of 12 months only and may be annulled by a resolution of either House of the Oireachtas at any time during that period. Control is at present exercised on a range of goods under the Control of Exports Order, 1982, copies of which were presented to the House in December 1982. I wish to inform Senators that I am satisfied that there is a continuing [886] need for this legislation for four main reasons.

Firstly, it enables us to comply with our obligations under European Economic Community law to restrict the export of essential materials to third countries where such action is necessary and for the benefit of Irish and Community processors generally. At present these obligations require the exercise of restrictions on the export of certain scarce scrap metals to conserve supplies and to maintain conditions of comparative price stability in the Community market.

Secondly, it provides the Government with the legislative authority necessary to ensure that strategic materials are not exported from or through this country to destinations where they could be used for undesirable purposes. Export control on material classified as strategic is not operated at Community level. By arrangement, members of the European Economic Community and some other countries control the export of such materials under their national legislation, and this Bill will enable this country to continue to do likewise. Our participation in this international strategic control is based on this country's need to import certain high technology industrial materials and components required by more sophisticated industries which in latter years have been established here and which contribute significantly to our exports. Since the movement of these materials to Ireland is contingent on our participation in the strategic control arrangements, it is essential that the Minister should continue to control the export of materials of a strategic character to ensure continued access to the materials and components concerned to the extent that they are needed and thereby ensure that employment is maintained in the industries which use them.

Thirdly, Senators will agree that it is only prudent for any Government to have immediately available to it a means of dealing quickly with any emergency which might deprive the country of essential materials and which might be required before corrective legislation could be enacted.

[887] Finally, it is essential to have the authority to control exports to any country if such action were required by our foreign or other policy considerations.

As I have said, this legislation has been renewed by the House on eight occasions. It is now in operation for over 26 years. I am satisfied that the reasons for its retention, which I have just outlined, will continue for the foreseeable future. As no practical difficulties have arisen during the entire period of its operation, I consider that the time has come to make the legislation permanent and, in addition, to provide that orders made under it are also permanent. My proposal should also appeal to Senators for the reason that permanent legislation will remove the need to take up the time of the House with future routine renewals.

In addition to making the legislation permanent, I would now like to draw the attention of Senators to two other changes in the existing legislation which are included in the Bill. The changes concern penalties for offences and the time limit on institution of summary proceedings. The present maximum penalty, which was fixed in 1977, for making a false or misleading statement in order to obtain an export licence is £500. I consider that this is not an adequate penalty because of the fall in the value of money since then. In addition I believe that a more effective deterrent is needed by way of imprisonment and value related fines to discourage misrepresentations, particularly in the area of high technology. The value of such goods can often be very substantial, and unauthorised exports of strategic goods could put Irish industry, and employment in it, in jeopardy. High technology sales abroad are now making a major contribution to the growth in our exports, and the seriousness of any act which would put this contribution at risk cannot be overstated. In the circumstances, I consider that the penalties outlined in section 3 of the Bill will be effective and, at the same time, be fair in that they are not excessive in the light of the considerations involved. I should specify that these penalties are:— for summary conviction a fine not exceeding £800 or [888] imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both the fine and the imprisonment; and for conviction on indictment a fine not exceeding £10,000 or three times the value of the goods for which the licence is sought whichever is the greater or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both the fine and the imprisonment.

With regard to summary proceedings, experience has shown that the normal six month period allowed under the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851, for the initiation of such proceedings and which has operated in the legislation up to now, is inadequate. In the area of export control there can be a considerable time lapse between the date of commission of an offence and its discovery and completion of an investigation. For that reason it is proposed in section 3(9) that summary proceedings may be commenced at any time within two years of the date of an offence.

Apart from the changes to which I have referred this Bill is the same as the export legislation which has been in force for many years, and for the reasons which I have outlined I commend it to the favourable consideration of Seanad Éireann.

Mr. Smith: I should like to welcome the Minister of State. We would have an even greater welcome if he was introducing a Bill to secure some of the investors in PMPS, but perhaps he will be back very soon with proposals in that regard. This legislation has come before the House on a number of occasions and this is more or less a replica of what has been considered over the past 26 years except that we are now giving it a permanent face and hence we will not have a reason for the introduction of routine Bills. It is essentially to safeguard against shortages in scrap metal and to ensure that we have overriding control over these areas in future.

In the midwest region we have had some fantastic developments in the microchip and the technological areas and obviously with that new technology this legislation is very important. A couple of years ago the press highlighted the problems which related to the possible [889] export of material from this country — I think it was to Libya — and hence the necessity to ensure that all this is used for the purpose for which it is originally intended. I note that the Minister of State did not refer to timber although I think in the earlier statement his Minister spoke about it in the Dáil. I wonder if we regard timber as a strategic material, because if we do we are paying very scant attention to how we harness it as a resource. We are importing over 80 per cent of our requirements and still have not faced up to the question of how we can harness these resources although we are exporting timber at as low a rate as £1 per ton. I would draw the Minister's attention to it although it does not come altogether within the confines of this Bill. It is non-controversial legislation, and Fianna Fáil welcome it and give full support.

Mr. Ferris: We also welcome the Bill on this side of the House. The important thing is that it makes it of permanent duration as it was ludicrous that a Minister had to come back once every 12 months to have a continuation of an Order or to allow him to operate within the confines of his Department. I was quite annoyed recently that the British authorities refused entry into their markets of fowl from this country just because of an isolated outbreak of a specific disease which may have come across the Border in any case. Have we powers to control imports of undesirable commodities? We have quarantine arrangements but it might be no harm to fire a shot over the bow, so to speak. There is a lucrative export market to people who have invested quite a bit of money in that part of Monaghan and we must ensure that all the EEC regulations are complied with and that free trade would operate between countries and in the area of export, particularly of produce suitable for human consumption. I was rather annoyed that they seemed to ignore as they did over the past couple of days in Athens, the whole principles of the Treaty of Rome, and when the Minister is responding he might say what powers we have in the area of imports. If this [890] country might be used as an inter-route, I would be particularly worried about the drugs and the arms scene because it is occasionally used as a cockpit for people trying to get their wares to other countries.

Mr. Lanigan: On the import and export of strategic materials, in early 1982 a plane landed in Shannon airport and its manifest suggested that it was full of spare parts for machinery which were going to South America. The plane was serviced at Shannon and when it got to the United States it was found to be filled with armaments for South America, coming from Israel. If we are serious about this Bill how do we prevent or analyse what is going through the international airports at Dublin or Shannon? To suggest that scrap metal is a strategic material is one thing but to say and to be able to prove that armaments can go through Shannon airport from a warring country to be used in another country is ludicrous.

Mr. McDonald: I shall be very brief. I welcome the measure. It is important that a small country such as ours should have permanent legislation which gives the authorities the maximum control over trade imports and exports, apart from the points raised by Senator Lanigan. I hope that the Minister will avail of an early opportunity to make a few amendments to the export promotion legislation which would enable CTT to grant aid sales people who may not themselves be manufacturers or producers. I know that this does not arise under this Bill but nevertheless there are quite a number of people with agencies operating from outside this country and yet they do not seem to get the kind of support that their success sales indicate they are entitled to from State sources. I wish the Bill success and I am glad that it will be permanent legislation.

Minister of State at the Department of Trade, Commerce and Tourism (Mr. M. Moynihan): I should like to thank Senators for their constructive approach to this measure. The legislation envisaged in this Bill has been on the Statute Book since 1956 by way of a succession of [891] renewed temporary provision Acts. The provision of the Bill was identified with these in the continuation Acts except for changes dealing with the penalties. By far the greatest administrative activities in export licensing are those of the electronic and computer sectors which, as Senators are aware, are our most successful industrial growth areas with big exports and great employment potential. The components and materials for these industries must be imported and, to ensure a continued supply, it is essential to show that we are exercising adequate measures in controlling exports of the strategic end products.

Senator Lanigan pinpointed that with regard to the Shannon area. This is an area in which there is tremendous growth and major expansion is possible. We must be very responsible in the export of these computers and other components, so that there is a great responsibility on us from that point of view. Shannon is controlled under the area but it is not under the Department: the customs and excise authorities have to exercise the controls to ensure that Ireland is not used as a transshipment centre to countries to which strategic materials are sent. Any case of that nature would be fully and thoroughly investigated, and I hope it does not happen too often.

Senator Smith referred to timber. The Departments of Agriculture and Fisheries and Forestry control timber, and my Department only grant a licence for export in consultation with these two Departments.

The question raised by Senator Ferris relates to the Department of Agriculture and I understand they are dealing with that with a view to finding a solution.

I thank Senators for their co-operation in this measure which will have to be finalised before 31 December.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.

[892] Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Ferris: Next Wednesday at 2.30 p.m.