Before going into the main questions raised in this Bill, I would like to refer to a point connected with Section 3, which was not mentioned by the Minister previously, and which has reference to the exemption of representatives of the other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. I understand this exemption will only apply to representatives of those Governments which offer a similar exemption to our representatives in their countries. This would only apply to the representative, when he is appointed, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We have no representative in Canada, and consequently any representative of Canada will not enjoy the privileges of this section. I do not know exactly, as a result of the Adaptation of Enactments Act, what is the position in this country with regard to the exemption of representatives of other countries outside the Commonwealth of Nations. I presume, by some enactment the Minister of the United States would be exempt from all income tax and, I hope, all rates and taxes of every kind. I presume that is the case with regard to our Minister in Washington.
I do not know, and I am not aware if the Minister knows, what is the position with regard to Consuls-General of countries that have not got diplomatic representation in this country, but that have Consuls-General who perform a quasi-diplomatic function in relation to the Government of this State. I do not know whether their goods, their effects, are free from customs duty when they come into this State. It would be advisable if the Act were extended so as to include the representatives of other nations besides those included in the British Commonwealth of Nations.
The main point with which I wish to deal touches on a question which has not yet been discussed in the Dáil, or, so far as I know, in the Press. I refer to the question of the continued operation of Section 8 of the Finance Act, 1919, and similar sections in other Finance Acts of the British Parliament; in other words, the operation of imperial preference in this country. I have no desire to raise any general discussion. In view of the terms of the Finance Bill and the Budget statement, which does not impose any fresh customs duty, it would not be advisable to start a general discussion on tariffs at this point. I think it would be advisable if the Minister made some statement with regard to the position as respects imperial preference. So far as I understand, the 1919 Act and the other sections of other Finance Acts are still in operation as a result of the Adaptation of Enactments Act.
In the 1919 Finance Act it is stated that imperial preference on certain goods will be given from certain countries in the British Empire. It is defined in that Act that the British Empire means any of his Majesty's dominions outside Great Britain and Ireland. Many tariffs have been imposed since the Saorstát came into being, subject to the 1919 Act. That is to say, that the manufacturers in Great Britain and other parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations and the British Empire enjoy a preferential rate as compared with the rates charged on goods from other countries. There are other tariffs which have been imposed, and which, apparently, are not subject to imperial preference. For instance, in the last few Budgets the Executive Council has removed the imperial preference on sugar and tobacco, and the duty on tea has been removed. I think it is important that the country should know exactly what is the position of this State with regard to Northern Ireland and Great Britain in the matter of imperial preference.
I am inclined to believe, as far as I have been able to read the figures, that we are giving a far larger preference to Great Britain and Northern Ireland —we are giving a far larger reduction in customs duties to goods from Great Britain and Northern Ireland—than Great Britain and Northern Ireland give to goods from the Irish Free State. I was particularly struck, in the course of the Parliamentary tour in Australia, with the importance which the Australians attach to the question of imperial preference. The British members of the delegation repeatedly protested, either in private or in public, against the imposition of tariffs by the Australians against British goods. I remember a very forcible speech that was made by the Premier of Victoria, Mr. Allen, or as he is better known, Mr. "Cocky" Allen. "Cocky" is the Australian term for farmer. He is head of the Farmers' Party and Premier of Victoria. He made a very forcible speech, pointing out that Australia was giving about £9,000,000 a year to Great Britain by way of remission of customs duties through the operation of imperial preference, while the imperial preference given to Australian goods in England was comparatively negligible. Deputies, I am sure, would be interested to hear what is the corresponding figure in the Irish Free State to that sum of £9,000,000 a year which the Australians give as a free gift to British manufacturers. Unfortunately, we have no statistics. The statistics published by the Government do not clearly differentiate between those imports which are liable to full duty and the imports which are liable to preferential imperial duty. In this connection we should not forget that it is not only a cash remission which we give the British manufacturers: we also give them an increased market. A reduction in the customs duty gives them a greater capacity for selling their goods in this country than they would have if they had to pay the full duty, and therefore the benefit to British manufacturers must be considered not simply as a cash reduction in the customs duty, but also in reference to the increased facilities they get for the sale of their goods in this country.
I think the Minister would do good if he made a statement giving the general figures with reference to the operation of imperial preference in this country. There has been a lot of very loose talk, particularly in the Press, with regard to our best customer. It is important for us to know in terms of pounds, shillings and pence what benefit exactly we give to our best customer. They apparently give to us, according to the leader writers of the "Irish Times," that venerable organ of classical reaction, their good-will. We give them, apparently, imperial preference. I think, in order to get a clear understanding of the political and economic relations between this State and Great Britain and Northern Ireland, that we should have definite figures on this matter, and perhaps it is more important that we should have these with regard to Northern Ireland than with regard to Great Britain. We give, apparently, imperial preference on some articles. There is nothing to prevent this House from giving a national preference, by agreement, to Northern Ireland. There is nothing to prevent us, as a sovereign Assembly, from giving a national preference to goods certified by the Northern Government as having been produced and manufactured in Northern Ireland. I do not say that this would be advisable or feasible, but there is nothing certainly to prevent us from doing it. There is a danger, although perhaps this does not come exactly within the terms of this Bill, of Northern Ireland drifting economically away from the Irish Free State. There is a danger of Northern Ireland seeking more and more its markets in England and Scotland and neglecting the markets of the Irish Free State, and it is quite possible that the establishment of a national preference would be a valuable means of keeping close economic relations between these two sections in this country.
This is a matter which, I suggest, the Dáil and the Government and the "Irish Times" should favourably consider. As far as I know, it has not been discussed or considered previously. I think it would be a mistake if this matter was not mentioned before this Dáil ceases to exist. There has been amongst the Press, and particularly in that venerable organ to which I have already referred, a persistent wail as regards the imposition of new tariffs in this country. If one reads the financial articles published within the last few years one will see that many of the tariffs which have been imposed have conferred a preference on British manufactures in the Irish market, a preference which they did not previously possess. I do not wish to delay the House further, but I think these are matters that should be mentioned before the Dáil comes to an end. I hope the Minister will make some general statement as regards the whole position in this country as far as imperial preference is concerned, as to the possibility of developing the idea of a national preference with regard to Northern Ireland, and as to how far this matter affects our economic and commercial relations with Great Britain and Northern Ireland.