I move the Second Reading of the Bill.
Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with Germany. - Finance (Customs Duties) Bill, 1931—Second Stage.
I wish to inquire whether it has ever been provided in any Bill that imperial preference shall be granted, or is that altogether an arrangement outside any enactment? One of the things arising from this Bill, I think, is that imperial preference is to be granted in regard to woollens, but presumably it is not to take place in regard to butter. There is no imperial preference in regard to butter imported from any of the Dominions. What is the statutory power in regard to the matter?
It is in the power of the Oireachtas entirely to give the preference according to some principle. In the case of butter, I think it was mainly because of the large supply that came from New Zealand and Australia that a situation arose which rendered it necessary to have an application for a tariff on butter. In the case of the other articles, the Tariff Commission had that before them and made a recommendation.
My point is: is there statutory authority for this imperial preference apart from the particular Bill providing for the tariff and the particular articles dealt with?
The tariff must be provided for by an Act. If the imperial preference means that articles from certain places come in less than the ordinary tariffs, that must be provided for in the particular Act in every case.
There is another question with regard to clause 2 of Section 1, which states that the Revenue Commissioners may permit such butter to be imported without the payment of the duty mentioned in this section.
Is it clear, I wonder, after the butter is imported and duty is paid, if it is then found that the duty need not have been paid, that there will be power under that section to make repayment? The revenue officials are, as a rule, very conscientious. Sometimes they take a long time before they will pass a consignment where there is any doubt about it. It may be that the importer wanting goods quickly will rather pay the duty and take delivery of the goods than wait until the Revenue Commissioners are in a position to decide to pass the consignment without payment of the duty. It seems a doubtful thing if under the existing section a refund of such duty could be made.
I would strongly advise anybody to get permission to import it without paying. That is, I think, the intention of the section. The Revenue Commissioners may, subject to compliance with such conditions as they think fit to impose, permit such butter to be imported, without the payment of duty mentioned in the section. That is how the section runs. It is clear that you ought to get it in free. I would not advise taking the other risk.
It is clear that if the duty is once paid it cannot be refunded.
I would not go so far as to say that, but I would not put any money on its coming back.
When the resolution connected with this Bill was before the House previously I drew attention to what I thought was a very serious anomaly in the case of residents in the Free State, and at the risk of repeating myself I would again draw the attention of the Department to this. The case was brought to my notice that 28 years ago there was a co-operative creamery organised by the residents of portion of South Armagh and Monaghan. The site for the creamery happened to be 20 yards inside the boundary of the County Armagh. The work has been going on and it has been a fairly successful creamery. It is a central creamery, doing churning and all. The suppliers of that creamery were, of course, co-operative suppliers who had taken shares in it. All went well and there was no trouble until we passed a resolution imposing a duty on butter. As a result of that resolution the suppliers of that creamery found that they were included in that tariff, and that though the milk was produced in the farms of the Free State, and brought across the boundary to be manufactured into butter, they were asked to pay a tariff on their own butter when they wanted to take it back from the creamery after being manufactured. Now, these shareholders were entitled to get that butter from the creamery at wholesale prices. But the financial resolution passed here meant that they became liable to a tariff. It worked out in practice that the farmer who had produced the milk on his farm and sent it to the creamery 20 yards across into Armagh would, on bringing back that butter, be liable to pay 4d. per lb. duty on it.
I drew the attention, in the form of a question, of the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners to this hardship. The answer I got was that the number affected was so small that it would not be worth while to make the exemption. I then made inquiries of the two creameries that are affected. One was the Fane Valley creamery, and the other was the Aughnacloy creamery. As a result of that inquiry, I discovered that there were 250 suppliers in the Fane Valley creamery and 110 in the other. That is, altogether, 360 farmers in Monaghan who were affected by this resolution. Another reason urged against the shareholders of the creamery was that there would be a difficulty in making any distinction. There, again, I may say that all those who are suppliers to the creameries have a creamery card, on which is entered the amount of milk supplied. At the end of the card, there is a column showing the amount of goods or butter brought back from the creamery. In that way there is a thorough check. At the end of the month, the shareholder gets a cheque for the balance coming to him, so that there would be no difficulty whatsoever in the matter of administration. In regard to the question of getting a supply from another creamery, I want to say that there is no other creamery within eight miles of these suppliers. In addition, even if there were other creameries, the farmers could not buy the butter on the same terms because they would not be shareholders in the other creameries. As shareholders, they are entitled to get the butter at a fraction over the cost price.
I think when we go to trouble in Section 3 here to protect the Northern Ireland farmer we should give some protection to our own citizens. I do not disagree with the protection given to the Northern farmer who is marketing his normal supply. We are protecting the Northern Ireland farmer when the butter is made from his own cows, and when the quantity does not exceed 56 lbs. if it is imported on a market day. In my opinion, if we are to have this tariff at all, we should have a further exemption in the matter to which I have drawn attention. We should exempt the farmers in the Free State who produced on their own farms, milk, from which butter is made in Northern Ireland. These farmers have been supplying milk to that creamery for 28 years. I want to draw the attention of the House to it. I think that is an anomaly that should be removed.
I find myself in a considerable difficulty about this Bill. It is a Bill to give effect to two resolutions, one of which I supported; the other I opposed. What am I to do on the Second Reading is now the question. I content myself with registering a protest against this tariff on butter for the reasons stated.
Better toss for it.
As far as the point made by Deputy Haslett is concerned, I do see a very grave difficulty in administration if consideration is to be given to the Deputy's proposal. I undertake to bring the matter before the Minister for Finance and see if it is possible to meet the Deputy's point. I think it would make the administration exceedingly difficult. The concession that was made already was one that affects to a large extent marketing in the towns concerned. On that point the farmers were benefited and everybody was well satisfied. The original idea was for the purpose of making markets on the old lines possible. On the other question, there does appear to be some difficulty. However, I will bring it before the Minister and ask him to look into it.
Question—"That the Bill be now read a Second Time"—agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for Wednesday, 6th May.