In Committee on Finance. - Financial Resolution No. 6—Customs.

I move:—

(1) That a duty of customs at the rate of an amount equal to 20 per cent. of the value of the article shall be charged, levied and paid on every of the following articles which is imported into Saorstát Eireann on or after the 24th day of November, 1933, and is chargeable with the duty imposed by Section 7 of the Finance (Customs Duties) (No. 2) Act, 1932 (No. 11 of 1932), that is to say:—

(a) articles which are of the nature of coats, wraps, costumes, dresses, or blouses suitable for wear by women and are neither knitted nor proofed, nor made wholly or mainly of leather or of fur, and also component parts and accessories of such articles, and

(b) articles of personal clothing or wearing apparel (other than gloves) made wholly or mainly of fur, and also component parts and accessories of such articles.

(2) That the duty mentioned in this Resolution shall not be charged or levied on any article which, in the opinion of the Revenue Commissioners, has before importation been substantially worn or otherwise used outside Saorstát Eireann by a person other than the importer or members of his family or household.

(3) That the duty mentioned in this Resolution shall be chargeable in respect of any article in addition to and not in substitution for any other duty which may be chargeable on such article.

(4) It is hereby declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution shall have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, 1927 (No. 7 of 1927).

This Resolution imposes, as in the case of Resolution No. 5, no new duties, but is simply a confirmation of the additional duty of 20 per cent.ad valorem on personal clothing and wearing apparel which was imposed by the Executive Council, as in the case of Resolution No. 5, under the Emergency (Imposition of Duties) Act.

The duty which was imposed by Emergency Order, which is being confirmed by this Resolution, applies to women's outer garments. This time last year, the women's ready-made industry was only in its beginnings. I recollect speaking here during some of the discussions on the matter at that time, and indicating that comparatively little progress had been made in that industry—certainly, nothing like the progress that was made in the men's ready-made industry. A number of firms, however, had started in a comparatively small way, but during last winter very considerable developments took place, and there are now about 20 firms in the Saorstát engaged in the industry— some of them on a very substantial scale indeed. These firms were manufacturing throughout the summer and, as is the custom, making for stock in order to supply the winter demand. They found, however, at the beginning of the winter, that to a large extent they were having difficulties in disposing of their stocks. In one place a factory was temporarily closed and, altogether because of the accumulation of stocks, from 150 to 200 people became disemployed. That accumulation of stocks was due to two causes. One of these causes was the abnormally fine summer which we have had, and which lasted much longer than summers usually do in this country. The buying season opened very late, and that was the position not merely in this country, but also in Great Britain. There had accumulated, therefore, vast stocks of these goods in Great Britain as well as here, and some of the firms in Great Britain were proceeding to get rid of these stocks by dumping them into this country or anywhere they could get a market for them. Another reason why the firms were finding difficulty in disposing of stocks was the tendency, which still prevails amongst the buyers, particularly of the larger retail houses, to order supplies from abroad and not to consider the goods available to them from native factories. I should like to refer, particularly to that aspect of the case, because it applies more in relation to this industry than to others. A number of the buyers—particularly buyers of the larger houses—have shown no inclination whatever to get their requirements from the native factories, although, I think, everybody who has examined the position impartially is prepared to testify that the native manufacturers are producing goods which, for price, design and quality, are as good as those available anywhere. I can mention, perhaps, a particular incident that occurred in order to illustrate my point. The proprietor, or managing director, of a certain firm here, engaged in the production of these ladies' garments and also with connections with an English warehousing company, invited a number of Saorstát buyers to inspect his stock of winter goods produced in his Dublin factory. He could not get any orders from them.

As an experiment he arranged to have a certain number of those lines submitted, from an English warehouse, to the same buyers, put the price up 5/- above that of the Dublin factory and sold them all. Instances like that, which have occurred, indicate the difficulties that native manufacturers have to contend with. These difficulties are much greater in relation to this particular trade than others. In order to check that, and to secure that the attention of buyers in Irish houses would be directed to the stocks in Irish factories, we increased by Emergency Order the duty from 40 per cent. to 60 per cent. The effect of the increased duty has been to procure that result, and although there are still stocks to be cleared, nevertheless, the position has been considerably eased. The duty applies also to garments made of fur in respect of which there have been substantial developments, and existing firms are now able to supply all the requirements of the country. The increasing of this duty will permit us to reconsider the position in respect of the cloths used by some of the manufacturers of the cheaper garments. Heretofore we had permitted these manufacturers to import these cheaper cloths free of duty under licence. That position may have to continue for some little while, but we are anxious to use the power now possessed in order to secure as wide a production of the cloth used by those manufacturers as possible in Saorstát mills. While the lower margin of duty operated, having regard to the nature of the competition these clothing firms had to meet, it was not easy to take positive steps to that end, but with the increasing of the duty it will be possible, and we will consequently have not merely an improved position in this industry, but, possibly, increased production in another industry as well.

I want to assure the Dáil that there is no reason to doubt that existing firms will be able to supply the requirements of the country. Under the auspices of my Department a conference with representatives of these firms took place. Their productive capacity was actually measured, and we received, from a number of them, the very definite assurance that they would proceed at once with the extension of their premises, and the installation of new machinery required, to provide, not merely the quantity, but also the great range of varieties required in these goods.

One of the reasons why the buyers of this country are inclined to go abroad is that they have a much wider variety to select from. Ordinarily they only purchased one or two samples of each design in ladies' overcoats. If we are to develop industry here we must be satisfied with a smaller range of designs, but subject to that the designs produced here are very good. I had some doubts on the subject and had investigations carried out and was myself astonished at the great range of designs and patterns now produced. I do not think that any difficulty upon that score will arise even though we may produce a lesser range than was formerly available. But the position is that we will have sufficient variety to provide for all tastes. We will have excellent quality and workmanship and we will have prices lower than those at which the same goods can now be sold subject to the duty. There need not be any cause of complaint in any quarter, and if any young woman fears to meet another woman in the street wearing the same sort of dress she will have to remember that though her pride might be hurt she is really suffering for the good of the country.

I looked with apprehension at Deputy Miss Pearse, and Deputy Mrs. Concannon, during the Minister's speech. I am sure they would suffer anything for their country, that they would be prepared to lay down their lives for their country, but I cannot imagine either of them wearing the same coat as their neighbour. I believe the Minister was never brought into contact with a lady selecting her coat or he would not compliment himself upon the wide variety existing in the Saorstát. Let me hasten to say that there are some manufacturers in the Saorstát who turn out admirable ladies' coats. But the Minister is doing himself disservice, and doing the manufacturers a disservice in reviving the old fallacy that Irish buyers have a predeliction to buy outside Ireland. That is all nonsense. The Irish buyer is as astute and able in his or her business as the American or the British buyer. He buys the best value he can get no matter where he can get it.

The Minister has said that he found in the late October accumulations in the warerooms of the Saorstát manufacturers of women's outdoor wear. He attributed that to two reasons: First that the buying system was arranged late, but that won't wash. People do not buy ladies' wear for retail distribution in winter; they are usually bought in July. No buyer of that merchandise goes out to buy when the weather gets cold. Many of them have their buying done in the summer holidays. If a buyer in a big retail store waited for the winter, and until the weather got cold to choose his stock he would not hold his job very long. And I think the Minister will agree that if it was repeat orders he was getting uneasy about, then, he was getting uneasy much too soon if he got uneasy in 1932 in the month of October. He could not expect repeat orders until the middle of November.

The second reason he gave was the inclination to buy abroad. That is pure delusion. The Minister knows as well as we know, that while there are good men in the trade, there were other men who rushed into the trade, and deliberately made skimpy garments. A great deal of that was thrown back on their hands, and there was a great deal of trouble. One man of that sort, in a trade, can do more damage than a dozen good men can repair. And there are good men, and competent men in trade in Ireland at the present moment. The real reason for the accumulation—and there was a very heavy accumulation—which taxed the capital of some enterprising men is that the buying power in the country is waning. In rural areas, where I think it would be true to say the bulk of the ready-made coat trade is done, the first thing people will economise on is clothing. When women found that eggs were not making the usual return, or that the ordinary commodities they had to dispose of were not making the usual return, they made up their minds to make their winter coat do another year. You had and have a serious contraction in retail buying power all through the rural parts of Ireland. The first commodity that contraction hits is women's outside wear. The Minister may make up his mind that no tariff, no matter how high, is going to overcome that difficulty. The only way to overcome it is to restore the buying power of the women. If that is done they will buy the coats quickly enough.

The Minister said that there is no use in painting a picture too brightly. He said that for price, design and quality the Irish manufactures are as good as anything else. That is true of a certain grade, but where you are dealing with a woman's coat that retails at 15/- or 20/- the Irish manufacturer cannot deliver the goods. He does not get the bulk demand which makes it possible to manufacture a woman's coat for retail sale at 15/- to 20/- unless he produces it under sweated conditions. Unless he gets juvenile girls, and works them long hours for bad pay in inadequate premises he cannot produce the type of coat that comes from Leeds and the centres of the women's cheap outer wear industry in Great Britain. I remember suggesting to the Minister at one time that he ought to exempt from the operation of the tariff any coat, the delivered price of which in Dublin was say below 13/-, because that is a commodity which is bought exclusively by the poor. No manufacturer will ever be able to produce it here under decent working conditions, because he is not getting sufficient orders to make it economically possible for him to do so. The admission of a cheap garment of that kind would not interfere with the kind of trade which provides desirable work for female labour in this country. A woman who wants to spend three, six or eight guineas on a coat is not going to take a coat the retail price of which is £1. It does not interest her. Nobody would dream of submitting it to her. You can, therefore, maintain your three, four, six or eight guinea coat trade intact, and at the same time let in the cheap coat which is made by mass production methods in the industrial centres of Great Britain. That would secure for our girl coatmakers in this country decent employment at a fair wage, and obviate the conditions which do obtain in one or two clothing factories in the City of Dublin. Those conditions are no credit to the industry, and I have no doubt the Trade Board Inspectors will come across them in due time, and be forced to deal very drastically with them.

I have no objection to the imposition of this duty, because the duty which was already in operation was— despite what the Minister said— virtually prohibitive. I think the Minister should consider what effect his tariff policy, of which this is an integral part, is having on commodities which are exclusively used by the poor. In so far as this tariff hits the 12/- or 13/- coat—I am now quoting wholesale prices—it is on a par with the tariff on cotton hose to which I referred on another occasion, and with the tariff on cotton underwear for men. It simply imposes a burden on the poor, although, in my opinion, providing no adequate return for Irish industry. I believe that the Minister ought to seriously consider that side of his tariff policy, and see if he cannot relax the operation of tariffs on low grade commodities which the poor must have, without in any way interfering with their efficacy as regards their application to commodities which are required by the middle and wealthier classes of the community.

I do not wish to prolong the discussion, but there are one or two points arising out of Deputy Dillon's remarks to which I should like to refer. It is true that the retail buyers place their orders for their winter goods with the British firms in July. My complaint is that they will not do that with the Irish firms. They send orders to an Irish factory and expect the goods by return. The complaint I have received is that it is impossible to get the retail buyers to place their orders with Irish firms at a reasonable time as they do with the British firms. I know from personal experience that that is so in relation to other industries as well. Definite instances have been brought to my notice recently in relation to other industries. It is true also that it would be impossible to produce some of the goods imported into this country at the price at which they are imported, unless we are prepared to have very poor conditions of labour in the industry, because those imported goods are the product of sweated conditions. The clothing trade, particularly in Great Britain, is so organised that the conditions in it are much worse than anything we would tolerate here. The difficulties of the Saorstát manufacturers arise out of the fact that they are required by regulations made under the Trade Board Acts to pay rates of wages which are substantially higher than those which have developed in recent years in Great Britain. That is a situation which will no doubt adjust itself, because it is evident that in Great Britain also action will be taken to prevent the development of those conditions. They are reminiscent of the conditions which existed very many years ago, and which were removed at that time by action of the law and of public opinion.

I think we can be satisfied that, while there is undoubtedly point in Deputy Dillon's remark that certain Irish manufacturers, in their haste to get into the market at first, did not produce goods of the quality they might have produced, they have been made to realise their mistake, and are getting to the point where they can produce goods of a very satisfactory quality indeed. Some of the manufacturers were wise enough to realise the wisdom of beginning properly, but others allowed their cupidity to get the better of their sense. However, these manufacturers have learned the lesson which all those who adopt that policy are bound to learn sooner or later, and in this industry in particular I think we can be satisfied with the progress made and with the standard and quality which have been achieved.

Resolution No. 6 put and agreed to.