I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The primary purpose of this Bill is to provide machinery for controlling more effectively the importation of cement, but advantage has been taken of its introduction for the purpose of introducing certain clauses which are designed to remedy minor defects which have shown themselves in the Cement Act of 1933. Some further provision of that kind may also be necessary, which I will try to deal with by amendments on the next Stage. Under the Cement Act of 1933, a licence was granted to a company, which was called Cement, Limited, authorising that company to manufacture cement. Two cement factories are now in course of construction, one at Limerick, and one at Drogheda. It is expected that the factory at Limerick will commence production before the end of the present month, and that the factory at Drogheda will commence production some time later. These two factories, between them, will be capable of producing in a period of 12 months approximately 240,000 tons of cement. It is estimated that the requirements of the country are about 370,000 tons per year. It is necessary, therefore, to make provision for the importation of cement, but in order that a market may be reserved for the product of the Irish factories, it is desirable that the quantities of cement to be imported shall not be more than the amount by which the output of the Irish factories falls short of the needs of the country.
In Part V of the 1933 Act the importation of cement is prohibited, save under licences issued by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. It is only, however, in the circumstances which are set out in that Act, that an application for a licence may be refused. In fact, the Act makes it obligatory on the Minister for Industry and Commerce to issue a licence provided that the application is in correct form, that the applicant is not a person who has been convicted of an offence under the Act, and provided that the existing stocks of cement are not, in the Minister's opinion, excessive. It is difficult to determine at any given point of time whether or not stocks are excessive and, in practice, the Minister's power to refuse a licence is doubtful so long as the first and second of the conditions I have mentioned are fulfilled. This Bill proposes to repeal that Part of the Act and to give power to the Minister for Industry and Commerce to exercise discretion in the selection of persons to whom import licences shall be issued and in the determination of the amount of cement that they shall be authorised to import.
Although the Bill is framed in that form, I can inform the Dáil that it is my intention, should circumstances develop as I anticipate, to give to Cement Limited sole licence to import the quantities of cement by which the output of their factories falls short of the needs of the country. There are many and substantial advantages to be secured by dealing with this purely temporary situation in that way. I describe it as a temporary situation because, within a very short time, the entire needs of the country in cement will be manufactured here. The giving of a sole licence will be conditional on Cement Limited proceeding, without delay, to erect a third factory, and subject also to the condition that the output of the three factories will be sufficient to supply all needs so that importations will in future be unnecessary. One of the advantages in operating by that method is that the disturbances which will be caused to existing channels of trade will be kept at a minimum.
The views of the persons who are engaged in the business of importing cement at present were taken upon that aspect of the matter and, at a meeting of importers held under the auspices of my Department, a resolution was passed unanimously, recommending that the distribution of imported as well as home-manufactured cement should be left in the hands of Cement Limited. Furthermore, any quantities of cement that it may be necessary to import will be secured under such arrangement at economical prices. As Deputies are no doubt aware, the importation of cement into this country is controlled by a Committee of the Cartel of Cement Manufacturers and I am satisfied if we put the Irish Cement Company in a position to make large scale purchases of cement they can secure it from the Cartel at prices which would be substantially lower than the prices which importers are compelled to pay at present.