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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 30 May 1940

Vol. 80 No. 11

Committee on Finance. - Vote No. 69—Office of the Minister for Supplies.

: I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £6,583 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1941, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí Oifig an Aire Soláthairtí.

That a sum not exceeding £6,583 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1941, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Minister for Supplies.

It is only some weeks since the Dáil discussed at some length the Estimate for the previous year for the Department of Supplies. When moving that Vote, I referred to the special features in the organisation of the Department which are indicated in the Book of Estimates and to which, I presume, it is not necessary to refer again. I stated then that the main functions of the Department of Supplies are to endeavour to secure the maintenance of essential supplies, to regulate the distribution of commodities which are in short supply or where there is any reason to anticipate a shortage, and to control the prices to be charged for commodities. For the discharge of these functions the Department has been organised on the basis of two divisions, one dealing with the supply of essential commodities and the other dealing with questions of distribution and the control of prices.

In connection with the maintenance of supplies, action has been taken by way of administrative arrangements with various British Government Departments with the object of reducing to a minimum the interference with the flow of goods which would be caused otherwise owing to the operation of the licensing system introduced in the United Kingdom, which is the main source or channel of supply of a wide range of essential commodities required in this country. Moreover, in cases in which the licensing system has been applied, steps have been taken administratively to secure that licences will be issued for the release of goods to this country, and, in some cases, those steps have been successful.

Positive measures to maintain supplies have been taken by the control of exports and, in certain cases, by control over imports. One of the principal objects of the control over exports is to ensure that raw materials grown or produced in this country will be reserved, in the first instance, for home manufacturers or producers. In the case of a few commodities which were imported from abroad, and which it was anticipated would be in short supply, it was considered necessary to make special arrangements to facilitate the purchase abroad of the goods concerned and their shipment to this country. Those arrangements took the form of organising importers and the formation of special non-profit-making companies to whom the arrangements for purchase and shipment have been entrusted. To enable those companies to function properly, imports of the goods with which they were concerned have been prohibited save under licence, and it has been arranged that, ordinarily, licence to import will be granted only to the special companies which have been formed for that purpose. Those arrangements have so far been applied in respect of grain, animal feeding stuffs, and timber.

It is obviously desirable so far as possible to ensure that there will be an equitable distribution amongst consumers of any essential commodity of which the supply may be short, and, where necessary, special arrangements to achieve that object are being made and will be made. The position in that regard, however, is the same as on the previous occasion on which the Dáil discussed matters of supply; that is to say, it has only been found necessary yet to institute a system of rationing in relation to one commodity —petrol.

In the months since the outbreak of hostilities the general position concerning supplies has been one of relative ease. A number of factors contributed to that end, and of these not the least important was the Emergency Supplies Branch of the Department of Industry and Commerce. That branch, which was set up in September, 1938, had the special duty of preparing plans for coping with the problems which would arise under emergency conditions in relation to the maintenance and distribution of essential supplies.

A complete survey of requirements was made, and industrialists and traders were urged to increase their stocks to the utmost practicable limits. The extra stocks which were accumulated as a result of these activities were particularly valuable in relieving the difficulties caused by the dislocation in supplies, which resulted from the first impact of war. Their value did not, however, extend to the initial stage, and in more recent times these stocks have, in many cases, helped substantially in enabling the demand for various kinds of goods to be met satisfactorily.

The stocks are not yet exhausted, but there are signs that the margins they have helped to fill will, in the case of some industrial raw material—and I mention particularly iron and steel— become wider, because of the increasing difficulties that are being found in obtaining fresh supplies. Generally speaking, the experience in the period since the war began affords no true guide as to the future position in regard to essential supplies, and I think it is very desirable to emphasise that fact both in this House and outside it. We may expect that there will be shortages, some of which will be likely to continue in existence for the entire duration of the war. The difficulties will grow as the field of combatant activity extends, and, while every effort will be made to meet them, it has to be anticipated that they will not be entirely overcome.

Many commodities are not now on tap, as ordinarily they are in times of peace, and if the supply difficulties inseparable from war conditions are to be tackled with any hope of their being successfully alleviated, it is essential that programmes of future requirements should be prepared. That advanced planning must cover the longest possible period ahead, and it requires that there should be the most complete co-operation with the Department of Supplies by producers, wholesalers and other importers in estimating requirements. As the Dáil is aware, an Order was made under the Emergency Powers Act, called the Control of Exports Order, the primary purpose of which was to regulate the outward flow of goods either of home or foreign production, so as to reserve an adequate proportion of the available supplies to meet home demands. Under that Order the export of certain commodities was prohibited, save under licence. A list of these commodities was published in the Press. There have since been amendments by way of additions or withdrawals, and these amendments have also been published from time to time.

In some cases special measures have had to be taken to overcome the difficulties of administering the Control of Exports Order, arising from the absence of any characteristic feature by which prohibited goods could be readily identified from licensed goods of the same general description when offered for export at a port or land frontier station. In the case of raw wool, it is necessary to reserve only certain grades and qualities for the home manufacture of woollens and worsteds. Those merchants and wool exporting merchants have been consulted, and an arrangement was made which worked successfully during the first six months of the war, in restricting exports of the kinds of homegrown wool required by manufacturers in this country. There is now under consideration a scheme for the sale of our entire exportable surplus of wool to the United Kingdom Wool Control.

Is it through them or to them?

To them. Before the war from 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. of our wool exports went to the United Kingdom, but only about 10 per cent. of our exports went to that country in the six months from September, 1939. In that six months' period the bulk of our wool was sold in the Low Countries and in the United States of America. There is now no market in Holland or Belgium, and sales to the United States of America are likely to become more difficult on account of the scarcity of shipping space, as well as the uncertainty of the demand. A definite arrangement to sell to one buyer would have many advantages, provided, of course, that a satisfactory price can be negotiated. There have been preliminary discussions with the interested parties for the purpose of settling the necessary details, and it is the intention to give adequate representation in any exporting organisation that may be formed to the interests concerned in the marketing of wool. It is also the intention to use the Prices Branch of the Department of Supplies to ensure that a fair return for his wool will be obtained by the farmer producer.

A special arrangement has also been applied in restriction of the exports of waste paper and rags, after consultation with paper manufacturers and waste paper and rag merchants. Fully satisfactory results have not been obtained from the export control as applied to hides and skins. To conserve for the Irish tanners the hides they want for upper leather production, it has been decided to refuse licences for the export of calf skins and light hides. But there is evidence to suggest that these prohibited qualities are being exported concealed in bundles of heavier and coarser hides for which licences have been given. That matter is at present under consideration, and discussions have taken place with the Federation of Irish Tanners in connection with it. It is obviously desirable that action should be taken to prevent that evasion of our export regulations, even if it should have drastic consequences for the persons concerned. Amongst goods, the export of which has been prohibited, and for which no export licences are being granted, are the following: Scrap sheet lead, scrap lead piping, scrap zinc, scrap sheet aluminium, soap, wheat, barley, oats and maize. In the case of maize there was until recently a substantial illicit export over the land frontier, and a number of offenders were successfully prosecuted in the courts. This traffic has now ceased or, at least, has been reduced to insignificant proportions.

Another objective of the control of exports is to prevent a transit trade with the United Kingdom in goods which are prohibited from entry to that country if consigned from a source other than this country. The United Kingdom Government, as Deputies are aware, have prohibited the importation —save under licence—of a wide range of goods, but, in order to facilitate the normal trade of this country with them, they have issued in our favour an open general licence under which all goods consigned from this country, save a relatively small number, are admitted without special licence. This concession, which was arranged by administrative action, is clearly of material advantage to this country, and it is very important that the benefits of it should not be withdrawn or curtailed by abuse on the part of British importers in having goods, prohibited from direct entry to the United Kingdom, consigned to them from abroad through this country. Several attempts to evade the British restrictions in this manner have been discovered or anticipated, and to defeat these attempts, restrictions have been applied under our Control of Exports Order to the exports of biscuits, grapes, buttons, elastic, glass, and glassware.

There is a very large number of commodities in respect of which difficulties of supply have arisen or have been anticipated and in relation to which action has been taken by my Department. It is not possible, in the course of my statement here, to review, even briefly, the position in respect of each of these commodities, and I propose to deal only with some essential commodities in relation to which the supply position is of general public interest. The first of these is, of course, wheat. Up to the present, supplies of imported wheat have been maintained at normal levels, and the total stock in the country, including the special reserve established before the war was, on the 30th April, 151,000 tons or, approximately, 15 weeks' supply. In addition, on that date a number of forward purchases had been made and, taking these forward purchases into account, the position on the 30th April was that the total stock in hand or in sight was 218,000 tons, or the equivalent of 22 weeks' supply. It is anticipated that the arrangements for buying and shipping wheat which have been made will be reasonably sufficient as a safeguard for the continuity of supplies from abroad, but that depends on the future course of the war, and any development that further impedes shipping will increase the risks to be faced. To meet these risks, home production of wheat is being stimulated. It is anticipated that the wheat crop of this year will yield us, approximately, 45 per cent. of our total annual requirements.

What increase does that represent on last year?

Last year's figure was 35 per cent. The national percentage required to be fixed by the Minister for Agriculture under the Cereals Act has now been fixed at 45, but it is possible that the actual crop will be larger and that an additional percentage may have to be fixed later. The price of imported wheat, on distribution, is fixed by Grain Importers, Limited, in consultation with my Department. For the four ports of importation, a uniform price is fixed from time to time by reference to the cost of purchases coming forward and also to the cost and levels of stock already in hands.

Is any profit charged by this company? The Minister said the company was a non-profit-making one.

Grain Importers are a non-profit-making company.

Is the wheat sold to the millers at the all-in net cost, without profit?

The Deputy interrupted me a second too soon. I was saying that the wheat is allocated by Grain Importers, Limited, to the millers at a price fixed by them in consultation with my Department. In fixing the price, regard is had to the price at which grain is being sold at the time, the cost at which the stocks in hand were purchased, and the levels of these stocks. In addition, a levy of 3d. per ton is imposed to meet the administrative costs of the company. The current allocation price of imported wheat is 55/- per 480 lbs. As there has been no difficulty in maintaining supplies of wheat heretofore, there has been, of course, no shortage of flour and, consequently, few complaints have been made as to the difficulty of obtaining supplies of flour.

Are we getting in any white wheat?

Is the Deputy referring to the soft wheats?

I am curious about this company. Who are Grain Importers?

A company I set up.

Who are they? They work for nothing.

There are quite a number of people in the company.

Are they millers or independent individuals?

They are a firm consisting mainly of people engaged in this business of importing grain.

Were they formerly earning a living at it?


And they are a non-profit making body now?

This company is nonprofit making.

Are they paid a salary?

How do they exist?

As individuals, they have still their own businesses.

Are they millers?

Some of them are millers and some of them are grain merchants. This company has been formed to handle our total wheat imports, and it makes no profits. Members of the board of directors are paid no fees.

Is there any means by which they would have an opportunity of making money in their handling of these supplies?

This company cannot possibly make money, because all its activities are completely controlled by my Department, including the fixation of the price at which they sell the wheat.

They do not sell any themselves?

The supplies are allocated to the flour millers. If any of the members of this company are directors of flour mills, the flour mills of which they are directors get their normal allocation of wheat, based upon the quota of the mill as fixed by legislation a number of years ago.

The extraction of flour from wheat still remains around 70 per cent. but, as Deputies are aware, all flour is now straight-run. Circumstances have not yet arisen requiring an increase in the extraction and, in any event, we consider it desirable to keep the extraction about the present figure so as not to reduce the output of wheat offals. The extraction is the same as it was pre-war and, notwithstanding war conditions, the public are still getting very high-class flour.

The position concerning maize on the 30th April last was that stocks held by the importing company and by the millers were estimated at 27,000 tons, or about four weeks' supply. At that date, forward purchases amounted to 91,000 tons. Of those forward purchases, approximately 22,000 tons have since been landed. There is reason to expect that supplies of maize will continue to come forward under the arrangement made, but there can, of course, be no certainty in present circumstances, and additional supplies, though fairly regular, have been insufficient to meet full demands. There is no evidence that the restriction on the supplies of maize to millers has resulted in a shortage of maize that could be regarded as amounting to serious proportions. Nevertheless, until supplies increase above the present level, if they do increase, there can be no expansion in allocations to millers. On the 30th April, the stock in the country and the cargoes in sight represented cover for the country's requirements to the end of August, and could reasonably be regarded as the minimum safety margin. While that position remains, and while it continues necessary to restrict supplies to millers to something less than 100 per cent. of normal pre-war requirements, no provision can be made for increasing supplies in the case of individual millers, or for supplies to persons who did not mill maize during the 12-monthly period preceding the outbreak of the war. Such provision could only be made by reducing the quantities of maize available to established millers, but that would represent a departure from the principle underlying the distribution arrangements which could not be accepted in present circumstances. The price at which maize is allocated is determined in the same manner as in the case of wheat. The present allocation price of maize is £11 4s. per ton.

I do not propose to deal with the position of all commodities, even though in respect to some of them difficulties have arisen, or are anticipated. If Deputies are interested in any particular commodity, I am prepared to give them whatever information is available when I am concluding the debate. So far as animal feeding-stuffs are concerned, we have been able to maintain reasonable supplies heretofore, and the same is true in the case of tea, in respect to which no difficulties have arisen yet, although that statement must not be interpreted as meaning that difficulties may not arise in the future.

Will not the new season's tea be coming in now? Has not the allocation taken place? Is not the end of June the allocation period?

I will merely mention that up to the present there has been no difficulty in maintaining full supplies of tea. In the case of sugar, as a result of the arrangement made the supply position has been satisfactorily maintained, and in the middle of the present month the stocks held represented the requirements for about 30 weeks. Arrangements are being made for the purchase of further supplies and these further supplies will be brought in mainly in the form of raw sugar. It is expected that during the current season the total area to be sown with beet will exceed 60,000 acres and, with normal conditions as to yield, that acreage should yield sugar in excess of 90,000 tons. It is not anticipated, therefore, that any difficulty will be experienced in making suitable arrangements to provide whatever additional quantities are necessary to meet our full requirements in the coming year.

Our tea comes through London?

That is correct.

There may be certain developments there in the immediate future, one can assume, and we must remember that there was considerable difficulty last time in regard to tea.

We will deal with the developments when they arise.

Would it be possible to get it here directly?

It is not impossible. I want to make special reference to agricultural fertilisers. In the course of the present year approximately 85 per cent. of our normal requirements of superphosphate were made available from home sources. Some manufactured superphosphates were imported. Deputies will remember that we had a discussion on this matter before. The restrictions upon the importation of manufactured superphosphates were removed here, although at that time the countries from which supplies of manufactured superphosphates might be obtained were maintaining a prohibition on export. With the conclusion of the season in those areas, it was found possible to obtain licences for the export of the stocks of fertilisers remaining in the manufacturers' and distributors' hands and some parcels of fertilisers were imported here. The recent developments in the war have, of course, shut off that source of supply. There are, however, still some lots available and these are being procured. I understand the Irish Sugar Company have made arrangements to import a quantity of superphosphate which, with the quantity of special beet manures available from the Irish Fertilisers Manufacturers' Association, will provide adequately for the needs of the sugar beet crop.

It is impossible to be specific as to what the position is likely to be in respect to the supply of raw materials for the manufacture of fertilisers for the 1940-41 season. We have made a careful estimate of our requirements, but it is anticipated that shipping difficulties will again prove to be of considerable magnitude. We will, of course, have to make every effort to overcome them. Our supplies of rock phosphate come from North Africa, and it is in relation to them that difficulties concerning shipping are anticipated. The present source of supply of potash manures is Alsace. Supplies from that region may be cut off through war operations. There is an alternative source of supply in Spain, from which it is expected some supplies can be obtained to meet requirements should the necessity arise. I can say that the Department of Supplies is fully conscious of the necessity for taking every possible step to maintain a full supply of agricultural fertilisers. We will do everthing possible to that end.

Is it not a fact that in Spain they have opened up all their kainit quarries?

There is a possibility of obtaining supplies from Spain. I want to make a brief reference to coal. Our supplies of coal come entirely from Great Britain. For a period after the outbreak of war the maintenance of those supplies was found to depend in some measure on the prices settled for deliverance. In pre-war years the prices to this country were above the general export prices and lower than British internal prices. When the industry was taken over under British Government control after the outbreak of war, the first step taken was to level up export and bunker prices with British inland prices. In view, however, of the existing schedule of prices in operation for this country, the application of increased prices here presented a complication for the British control. Accordingly, the matter was discussed between representatives of our Coal Imports Committee and the British collieries and an agreement was reached in November, 1939, providing for an increase of 1/6 per ton on coals shipped here. Even with that increase there was still a wide differential between the prices at which British coals were sold in this country and the prices obtained for British coals in other markets.

The Central Council of Colliery Owners, early this year, represented that such a wide differential, exceeding in some instances 4/- per ton, would make it impossible to maintain supplies to this country, more particularly having regard to the growing demand for British coal. Accordingly, they submitted fresh price proposals for the coming year which commenced on the 1st May. With a view to ensuring that supplies would not be cut off almost entirely, the proposed schedule has been agreed which, generally, means an advance of 2/6 a ton on existing winter prices, with the exception of South Wales where, for large and sized industrial coals the increase will be 4/4 per ton, and 3/- per ton for other industrial coal in that area. The normal summer reductions for house coals have been discontinued.

Apart from a period of temporary dislocation which followed the severe weather conditions in January of this year, the supplies of coal have heretofore been forthcoming in quantities adequate to meet demands. The position for the future, however, will be materially worse, and it is expected that from now onwards deliveries of coal from Great Britain to this country will be substantially below the amount required to meet our demands. That position arises from the fact that more and more coal is required by Great Britain for her own war effort and for the war needs of her allies. It has been indicated to us that every effort will be made to maintain supplies to this country at as high a level as possible, but it is understood that, in fact, not more than about 80 per cent. of our requirements will be provided. Steps to meet the new situation created by that curtailment of supplies are being taken urgently, and arrangements are being made immediately to deal with it. Deliveries for domestic consumption will have to be restricted, but that restriction, we trust, will be accompanied by measures intended to relieve any undue hardship on the poor. It is intended, so far as possible, to maintain the supplies for industrial and similar purposes so as to prevent any increase in unemployment.

As Deputies are aware, the one commodity in respect of which definite shortage involved a rationing scheme, is petrol. Up to the present we are endeavouring to make available all the petrol required for essential road services, both passenger and freight services, for commercial goods vehicles, for general haulage tractors and agricultural tractors and machines. The requirements of local authorities, of industrial users and of persons who require petrol for domestic purposes, such as for lamps, are fully supplied, but, as all these services get practically their full requirements, other vehicle owners must of necessity be strictly rationed.

Every attention is, however, given to the needs of owners of small service vehicles, that is to say, taxis, hackney cars, and the like, and the requirements of the owners of these vehicles are being liberally met. After all, these services have been provided for, the balance of the petrol available is distributed as equitably as possible, always keeping in mind those persons who require to use their cars as part of their profession or business. Those persons include clergymen, doctors, veterinary surgeons, commercial travellers and a great many other classes. At the moment, the basic allowance for private cars has been increased by 50 per cent., and, taking into consideration the difficulties which have been experienced in obtaining supplies, the owners of private motor cars must be regarded as getting generous treatment. For the summer months also, private motorists are not compelled to purchase their basic allowances in the month for which the coupon is available. Petrol may be purchased at any time within the rationing period. That arrangement was intended to facilitate the public demand during the holiday season, but I want to make it clear that I can hold out no hope that an increase in the allowance now made can be granted. In other words, if a private motorist uses his three months' supply of petrol in the month of May, he cannot expect additional allowances for the other two months.

It is in the interests of all concerned that there should be full co-operation with the Department of Supplies in carrying out the petrol rationing scheme. I have received complaints that garage proprietors who were complying with the law, selling petrol in exchange for coupons, were losing trade to persons who were illegally selling petrol, that is, selling petrol and not receiving coupons for it. For some time past, however, inspectors have been enforcing the regulations, and such complaints are now much fewer.

How are they being supplied?

They had the petrol in stock. I want to warn those garage proprietors that they will be wasting their time appealing to the Department for additional supplies. Those who sold petrol without receiving coupons will find themselves short of supplies and will have to remain so. I think it is worthy of mention that there has been no very substantial reduction in the number of any type of motor cars registered this year as compared with last year. That is somewhat difficult to explain, but it is a fact. It is true, of course, that the number of private cars registered in January is always less than in the summer months, and it is yet too early to say how the summer figures will compare, but, up to the present, the introduction of petrol rationing or the increases in the price of petrol have not, apparently, effected any significant reduction in the number of cars on the roads.

I want to make reference to our position concerning woollen and worsted yarns in connection with which there have been considerable difficulties which have occupied a considerable proportion of the time of the officers of my Department. Our import requirements are met ordinarily almost entirely from the United Kingdom, and since the war began difficulties have been found in getting tops, yarns, and raw wool owing to the control which has been applied by the British Government to the wool trade and to the distribution of supplies for both internal and external needs. The difficulties have been greatest in the case of the lower quality worsted yarns, for which there is a large demand by the hoisery and knitting industries. Supplies of the finer counts of higher quality yarns have not been curtailed so severely, but even these yarns have not been forthcoming in quantities fully sufficient to meet the demand.

Negotiations with the British Government Department administering the wool control have taken place on the basis of our requirements, and it has been agreed generally that merino tops and raw wool will be allocated to this country during the current year in quantities which bear the same ratio to total requirements as that adopted for the allocation being made to firms in the United Kingdom for the civilian trade of that country. No provision has been made for an allocation of the lower quality yarns, but the question of supplies of these qualities for Government needs in this country is being pursued. At the same time, efforts are being made to obtain an improvement of the 2,000,000 lbs. of merino tops, and the 750,000 lbs. of raw wool which have been allocated to us.

In the case of timber, as the Dáil will remember, the position at the outbreak of war was that reasonable stocks were then held by importers, and it was found possible, during the period from September to the middle of November, to replenish and augment the stocks by imports from Scandinavia, the Baltic and Canada. Cargoes from Scandinavia and the Baltic areas generally must now be regarded as being finally cut off, and, for the future, importers will have to depend, in the main, on supplies from Canada. The chief difficulties to be encountered in arranging such supplies will arise on account of the shortage of shipping space, but it is believed that arrangements which are now being put in train will help materially to resolve those difficulties, and that supplies will be sufficient to meet the reduced demand in the war period. The position will also probably be relieved to some extent by the substitution of other materials for timber in building construction and other works.

I have mentioned already that we have experienced considerable difficulties concerning the supply of iron and steel, and it is anticipated that these difficulties will continue. In the early days of the war, there was a very considerable interruption of supplies, due largely to the inevitable disorganisation of normal industrial life and to the congestion and delays in transport inseparable from a major emergency. The position improved somewhat, however, and, for a time, it looked as if we were likely to get reasonable, if not fully normal, supplies of all the metals we required. The intensification of the war effort on the part of Great Britain is, however, now reflecting itself, so far as we are concerned, in the restriction with increasing rigidity of the quantities and varieties of essential metals that are being made available to us.

It is unnecessary to stress the vital and paramount importance which a nation at war attaches to steel, iron, copper, brass, aluminium and so forth, and, consequently, we must face up to the certainty of increased and increasing difficulty in obtaining supplies of those metals from United Kingdom sources. Within the past week or so, the Department has been in communication with the users and consumers of these metals in this country in an effort to obtain a reliable estimate of what our essential requirements are. The results are being examined at the moment, and it is hoped to use the information so obtained in further efforts to improve and ensure the supply position.

I do not propose now to deal with any other individual commodity, unless some Deputy requires information as to some commodity I have not referred to. I want to refer again to one of the principal activities of the Department, that is, control of prices. The system of price control in operation was described by me at some length when the activities of my Department were last reviewed here, and it seems unnecessary, therefore, to cover the same ground again, as there has been no change since in either the organisation or the methods adopted. Generally, the object aimed at is to limit profits and profit margins to normal or peacetime proportions, and to restrict price increases to the recovery of unavoidable and proved increases in costs. As a rule, the persons and firms concerned co-operate with the Department, and it is not necessary in most cases to make formal orders. The prices are agreed with the Department and the arrangements are then brought into operation voluntarily.

The increases permitted are, as I have said, in respect of unavoidable increases incurred, and every effort is made to secure that new costs like increased wages are not automatically passed on to the rest of the community. A common ground for a claim for increased prices is that precaution must be taken to accumulate reserves to meet a possible fall in prices after the war. The circumstances that arose after the last war are held out as a precedent, but, so far, there are no good grounds for believing that the post-war conditions of 25 years ago will be repeated. There is now a national Government whose duty it will be to look after the particular interests of our own people in such an eventuality. We cannot, therefore, agree to permit the public to be mulcted to safeguard a situation that may never arise. There may be exceptional cases in which some special arrangement must be made, but all such cases are considered on their merits.

So far as producers are concerned, it might be said that no increases are made in the prices of commodities of importance to the community without the knowledge and the consent of my Department. That involves the continuous review and revision of costs by the staff concerned, including, in numerous cases, the examination of accounts. In the course of the past few months, investigations have been made into the prices of a very large list of commodities. The control of prices charged by importers, wholesalers or retailers is a much more formidable task and a huge organisation would be required to do that work completely. The multiplicity of methods and customs of determining profit margins is such that a rigid enforcement is possible only for a limited number of commodities. For the remainder, control on broad lines is exercised, either by agreement with groups of trades, or by survey and inspection of individual traders.

So far as retail prices are concerned, the assistance of the public is especially desirable. All complaints of apparent excess retail charges are investigated. The number of complaints received is decreasing and has fallen substantially in recent months compared with the number soon after the beginning of the emergency. Prices investigations have been carried out locally and some 40 cities and towns have been visited by members of the staff of the Depart ment for that purpose. Special attention is paid to the prices of coal and foodstuffs during those investigations, and, in the past couple of months, coal has been the commodity particularly concerned. The prices branch has been of considerable assistance to local authorities as well as to other Government contracting departments, in advising them on the prices charged in their contracts, and a very large sum has been saved to the taxpayer and the ratepayer as a result of these activities.

I understand that the review I have just given of the work of the Department and the outline of the activities upon which it is engaged is necessarily brief. I may not have dealt with quite a number of commodities about which Deputies are concerned, or about which they may have received representations. There is a motion down to refer back the Estimate. That possibly relates to some matter I have referred to, or it possibly relates to some matter I have not referred to, but if there is any matter about which any member of the House requires further information, I shall be only too glad to oblige him, if I can.

I move that the Estimate be referred back for reconsideration. In proposing the motion to refer back this Estimate I was guided by the difficulty in finding out where the Prices Commission were really located. When the Minister made a statement about his Department on a Supplementary Vote, I raised the matter of the Prices Commission and he disclaimed responsibility. On the Vote of the Minister for Industry and Commerce I endeavoured to raise this point and I was told that, in the meanwhile, the responsibility for the Prices Commission had been referred back to the Minister for Supplies and that he was now responsible for that body. I understand that the facts are midway between those two points of view, and that the responsibility of the Department of Industry and Commerce for the activities of the Prices Commission relates only to the Extension of Functions Act, 1938 (No. 15 of 1938), that is, where they would review, at the request of the Minister, the operation of customs duty and other import restrictions. The rest of the responsibility for the Prices Commission, I understand, rests with the Minister for Supplies. It is very dangerous to prophesy in these days, but I would venture to make a minor prophecy, namely, that the reviews under this Extension of Functions Act will probably be few and far between this year. That means that really the whole of the Prices Commission expenses ought to be put on the Vote of the Minister for Supplies. The fact is that they do not appear in it at all. As I say, the difficulty I had in finding out who was responsible for that body is what prompted me to put down this motion. I do not know whether the Minister would agree with what I have said: I may be wrong, but if I am right—and I have tried very carefully to ascertain the facts—I would like to ask him how he can get out of assuming responsibility and putting something into his Estimate for the Prices Commission.

I particularly wanted to call attention to the activities of the Prices Commission, as they have a procedure of costings, when they engage in negotiations with manufacturers, which I think is rather unjust to other sections of the trade. The distributors are not called in, and the treatment, as between a manufacturer in Ireland and the distributors in Ireland, on the question of price is that the price is reviewed by the Prices Commission and fixed in consultation with the manufacturer, the distributors being left absolutely without any redress and not consulted in any way. The Minister may say that he has no responsibility for the distributing trade and that they ought to look after themselves. That might be quite fair if an absolute monopoly in certain industries had not been handed over to certain manufacturers. That being so, I think it behoves the Minister and the Government to see there is fair play as between those two sections of the community. One instance comes to my mind where the manufacturer was called upon by the Prices Commission to reduce the price to the public. He did so, but he did not reduce the price to the distributors, and the position was that the distributors had to forgo the amount of the profit by which the price of the article had been reduced, while the manufacturer's profit on the transaction was not reduced at all. That is the sort of thing that arises when one section of the community is left without any appeal.

As an instance of that sort of thing and of the effect it is producing on the distributing trade, I made a list of seven firms which, in the last 12 months had been selling one particular commodity—amongst others. They all sold this particular commodity, and these seven firms either went bankrupt, closed down, or carried an arrangement with their creditors. My conclusion was that these firms employed 190 persons between them. If the distributing trades are cleaned out at that rate, it will not be very long until the unemployment figures become a great deal higher than they are at present. All sections of the community in this country should get a square deal from the Minister's Department. It should not be a case of a manufacturer being handed an absolute monopoly and his treatment of other sections of the trade not being subject to review. That position should be rectified and, while I am sure the Minister will contend that there are very many important and weighty matters engaging his attention at the present time, he cannot do anything better than put in order the system in which the trade of this country is carried on.

As far as commodities are concerned, he has given us a very comprehensive survey, although he has pleaded that he has not covered the whole ground. I suppose we would be here until tomorrow if he tried to cover all the commodities that come into this country, but certainly his Department, in very difficult times, are doing their best, I think, to increase supplies. Of course, they make mistakes, and there are matters in which people do not see eye to eye with them, but I think that there is a very great endeavour made to do what is possible for the country.

I think there is one very important commodity to which the Minister did not refer in his statement and that is paper. Perhaps in his reply he would give some indication as to what is the position in that regard. I understand that there is no pulping plant in this country—I do not know whether that is correct or not—and that the pulp is imported for paper manufacture here. That means that we must rely on Canada for supplies. I think the Minister might give some information as to what the possibilities are, because I am afraid our people are living in a fool's paradise in this matter. We are consuming paper at the same rate, in many cases, as in normal times, and we are allowing supplies to run very low. Suddenly we may find that the supplies have reached vanishing point. That remark applies also to newsprint. We all know that newspapers have been drastically cut in size on the other side, whereas the cut in the size of our own newspapers has been of a very minor nature.

There are a few smaller matters to which the Minister might also refer in his reply. There is the question of fats, for instance, in which I know the position is rather difficult, and also the question of starch. The Food Controller in England, I understand, has cut supplies of this commodity to about two-thirds of normal requirements. There is a certain amount manufactured in this country. I take it the Minister will permit that manufacture to go on, but, as regards imported starches, whether the two-thirds reduction will apply also to this country, I do not know. The Minister in his remarks referred also to the question of waste. I should be glad if he could give us any information on that matter because it appears to me that no satisfactory arrangements are being made in this country for salvage of any description. It may be that salvage is not worth while. I do not know, but if anything could be done in regard to salvage, I think some energetic steps should be taken to make it effective. That would tend to spin out existing supplies of finished materials which can be made from some of the articles that are going to waste at present.

The supply of almost all our essential requirements, apart altogether from price, was, since the inception of the emergency, on the whole fairly satisfactory, but I agree with the Minister that no man can venture to express an opinion as to the future, because the position must be influenced in a great measure by the development and the extent of the war. For that reason, the position must be tackled in varying circumstances, as it arises. I simply want to refer to a few matters that I consider of some importance. On the question of wool, the Minister mentioned that the intention is to sell our surplus supply to the United Kingdom Control. I wonder could the Minister give us any information as to when he hopes to have prices fixed, because I am sure the Minister is aware that this year's clip is off at present? It is in the hands of the farmers, and no price has yet been fixed. Tentative prices are being offered here and there, but the clip cannot be stored in proper places and may become damaged. Some producers would like to sell on the understanding that the merchant would take it over, and that he would pay whatever price is fixed later on. I suppose that would be a proper solution. If the producer were informed that a price would be fixed by the Minister or his Department later on, I think it would be the proper procedure, but it would be advisable to have the clip in a proper store. The position at the moment is very unsatisfactory, and the sooner it is clarified the better. An early announcement as to how the price is going to be arrived at, as between the farmer and the merchant, is essential.

The question of the supply of artificial manures is a very important matter, and it is probably going to present a problem for the coming year. I think the House was given to understand by the Minister, in discussing this matter before, that a considerable percentage of our requirements in phosphates was in the hands of merchants or manufacturers here before the emergency period. I wonder could the Minister say what percentage was in their stores? What percentage of raw rock was in the hands of manufacturers before September?

About half of our normal requirements.

Are there any arrivals of raw rock at the present time, or when does the Minister anticipate arrivals?

It is impossible to answer that question. The rock will be brought in as shipping becomes available. An opportunity may arise to-morrow or may not arise for a month.

It has not arisen yet.

We have been getting some in.

I think some arrived in the last week.

The Minister has mentioned the fact that some surplus of manufactured "super" was available from other countries, and that was bought up. I suggest that any possible surplus that may be available in any place, and nearly at the price, should be bought, because on most of the land of this country we cannot produce a decent crop without artificial manures.

Holland and Belgium were the only two countries that were exporting it.

Of course, they are out of it altogether now. On the question of potash, I do not know that there will be much difficulty in getting supplies apart from shipping. We could get a considerable supply of kainit from Spain. I believe Spain has opened up all the kainit quarries. In fact, a considerable amount of our requirements last year came from Spain. I want to stress the necessity of availing of anything in the way of phosphates that is offered from any source. I do not know what examination has been made of the possibility of exploiting the Clare deposit, or whether it is possible at all to work it. It may not be a commercial proposition in a normal period, but, of course, there again it is difficult to estimate the duration of the war. I would imagine that even at present prices it may be a commercial proposition. That is a matter, I am sure, that is not escaping the Minister's attention.

The Minister informed the House that we were getting in some soft wheats. I presume that those soft wheats are going to districts where there is a demand for household flour, because, of course, it is from the soft wheats that household flour is manufactured. In certain districts, such as the City of Dublin, I suppose the consumption of flour would be bakers' flour to the extent of about 75 per cent., whereas in the country districts it might not be much more than 60 per cent. Accordingly, I think it would be well that the supply of soft wheats that may be available should be held for those districts. I understand that the supply of soft wheat is limited. The main sources of supply of wheat were South America, Australia, and certain countries on the Pacific coast, and of course the supplies now available are nothing like what we used to get. For that reason, the amount of soft wheat available is very limited.

With regard to the question of the supply of harvesting machinery, I do not know whether the Minister can give us any information as to the supplies available at the present time in the matter of spare parts and replacements for our harvesting machines. The Minister may remember the difficulty that was experienced with regard to tractor ploughs and tractor machines last winter, and there may be, possibly, a great demand for tractor binders, and for spare parts and replacements. In my opinion, now is the time to examine that matter, with a view to seeing if the necessary supplies are available, and particularly if spare parts for some of the American machines will also be procurable. Possibly, there might not be much difficulty about it, but I think it should be borne in mind that most of the binders in this country are of American manufacture, made by the International Harvesting Company.

On the question of coal, the Minister is aware that the supply of coal from Castlecomer has been cut off, practically, as a result of the strike in that area. Now, we have a number of anthracite cookers in this country which depend on a supply of anthracite coal. At the moment, there is no supply of Welsh anthracite coal available, and therefore I should like to know whether there is any possibility of getting the trouble in Castlecomer settled, since the matter is very important to all of us from the point of view of the supply of fuel.

I regard the Department of Supplies as one of the most important Departments in the Government service at the present time. My idea of the functions of that Department is, first of all, to ensure that supplies of essential commodities are kept up, and, secondly, to ensure that reasonable prices are charged for those commodities. Now, with regard to the first function of the Department, as I visualise it, I should like to know if the Minister is satisfied that we have sufficient stocks of wheat and flour in the country to last us over a certain period, and if he is satisfied that those supplies of such very essential foodstuffs will be kept up during the coming year. The danger that faces this country at the moment is that supplies of all commodities from outside may be cut off at a moment's notice, and a good deal of the regularity of our internal economy and of our internal life will depend on the supplies we already have in the country. Now, I do not want any information from the Minister that he might not think wise to disclose in the present circumstances, but I should like to be sure that the position is favourable so far as the supply of essential foodstuffs is concerned.

The Minister did mention the danger with regard to coal, and suggested that there may be a shortage of coal, and Deputy Hughes mentioned the matter of the Kilkenny coal supply. In that connection, I only wish to say that, when this matter was raised in the House on another occasion, it was pointed out that, although there seemed to be no reason for it, the price of anthracite coal there had been advanced and that that advance in price had taken place before the time when there was a reduction in the wages of the workers. I think that the total mentioned was 6/- a ton. My information is that the workers concerned there offered to refer the matter to arbitration and, therefore, I think the Minister should co-operate with the Minister for Industry and Commerce, or with whatever other Ministers might be concerned, with a view to seeing that this strike should be brought to a speedy termination. I am not in close touch with the situation there, but from the information I have received I believe that the situation is one that could be ended very easily if the right spirit were displayed on both sides. The workers, as I say, have offered to submit the points in dispute to arbitration. Personally, I do not think there should be any great difficulty in getting the owners to submit their case to arbitration also. At any rate, I think it is very necessary that that strike should be terminated as quickly as possible, especially in view of the Minister's statement that there is a danger of a shortage in our coal supplies.

Another matter to which I should like to refer is the question of price control. That is a very important function of the Department of Supplies. In that connection, I should like to know if the Prices Commission is still in active existence and, if so, I should like to know who replaced the member of the commission who has recently resigned. The Prices Commission, certainly, has very important functions to perform in connection with the Department of Supplies, and price control is one of the things that the ordinary people of this country have as a safeguard against profiteering during the present crisis. The Minister stated that the number of complaints with regard to increased prices, or profiteering prices, as I take it he meant, was decreasing. I am going to suggest to the Minister, however, that the reason for the decrease in the number of complaints is that the machinery which deals with such complaints is so cumbersome, and so dilatory in its effects, that people are beginning to lose all faith in the Prices Commission or in price control. I came up against cases of this, early on in the beginning of the war. Last November, we had a complaint in connection with the Fever Hospital in Cork of an increase of 10/- a ton being added to the price of coal, and, to the ordinary layman, there did not seem to be any justification for that.

The matter was referred to the Prices Commission which, after some weeks, sent a very evasive answer to the effect that they were not in a position to examine all the factors governing the situation. However, we persisted in our effort and sent the matter back again to the Prices Commission. Some time early in February we got a reply from them to the effect that the increase of 10/- per ton which was being charged by this contractor was justified because of the fact that he had got his supplies from some obscure port on the east coast of England, and that the freight and carriage charges were responsible for the increase. But the astonishing thing about the prices that were being charged for coal in Cork was this: that the inspectors of the Commission who were in Cork discovered, as a result of their investigations, that the price of coal there was 2/- per ton more than it should be. We were not told how long this extra sum of 2/- had been charged, or whether anybody who had been charged that excess amount could get a refund. We simply got the bald statement that, as a result of the inspectors' inquiries, the price of coal in Cork would have to be reduced by 2/- a ton.

Another case came before the Mental Hospital Committee in Cork. Shortly after the outbreak of the war there was a rise in the price of all commodities that were being supplied to the mental hospital by the contractors. The matter was taken up by the committee, which sent on a request to the Prices Commission to investigate and see whether the increases asked for were justified, the committee being quite satisfied to pay if they were. I had a very strong objection to paying those demands right off, for the reason that if a public body does that, the increase, whatever it is, will be immediately put on to the purchases made by the ordinary people in the area. In this instance, the Prices Commission again told us that the matter was one for the committee to investigate themselves. The committee had not the machinery or the official knowledge that would be available to the Prices Commission to enable them to do that. It was only when they returned the complaint to the Prices Commission that the matter was investigated.

I want to point out to the Minister that, in view of what occurred in these cases, it is no wonder the number of complaints is decreasing at the present time.

If there is a decrease in the number of complaints that the Minister speaks of, it is due to the fact that the ordinary person will not go to all the trouble that the Cork Mental Hospital Committee did to get their case investigated. That committee had to persist in its demand in order to get their complaint investigated. If so little attention is paid to the complaint of a public body, one can realise how little attention will be paid to the complaint of an ordinary citizen. I also want to say that the prices charged for vegetables in the City of Dublin recently have been a scandal, as much as 6d. and 7d. a head being charged for cabbage. My information is that cabbage is being exported to London, and sold there at 4d. a head, while the people in Dublin have to pay 6d. and 7d. I wonder was that matter investigated by the Prices Commission, and, if so, with what result. Surely, in an agricultural country like this it is an cutrageous state of affairs if cabbage has to be sold at such exorbitant prices.

In connection with price control, I suggested here on a previous occasion that it would be an advisable thing to set up local advisory committees, or local food control committees. Complaints could be addressed to them, and if those committees were to investigate the complaints in the first instance, it would mean that the Prices Commission would be relieved of a good deal of routine work. If I remember rightly, the Cork Corporation passed a resolution requesting the Minister to set up such a committee in Cork to deal with matters of that kind, because as those who lived through the last war know there is a tendency during a war situation to overcharge for commodities. I seriously suggest to the Minister and his Department that it would be an advisable thing to get those committees going in the different towns and villages. Parish committees, for example, could be set up, and these could be used as the machinery through which complaints, which could not be dealt with locally, could be sent on to the Prices Commission.

I should like to know from the Minister whether he is satisfied that supplies of material for the building trade will be available during the emergency period—I mean supplies for normal building—or is the position this —that the supplies which are available, or will be available in the near future, will only apply to restricted building. I am anxious to get that information, because down in my area there is a good deal of building contemplated.

There is the fear that if the building work is undertaken it may not be finished owing to the scarcity of supplies. When I speak of building material, I take it that the only commodity that there can really be a scarcity of is timber. Will the Minister say if the fullest use will be made of native timber, or can it be substituted for the supplies of foreign timber which formerly went into building? These are some of the matters on which I would like to have an assurance from the Minister. In conclusion, I would stress the necessity for the appointment of local committees in the different areas to deal with the question of price control, because that has a very important effect on people whose wages are static. These include a good many workers, as well as those who are living on unemployment assistance, home assistance, old age pensions, or widows' and orphans' pensions. All those classes are very hard hit by an increase in the price of commodities. As regards some of the increases in price that have taken place so far, probably some of them are, and can be, justified, but at the same time the greatest care should be taken by the Department to ensure that not only are supplies available but that they are sold at a reasonable price. That can only be done through the operations of the Prices Commission, with, I suggest, the help of local committees, the members of which will naturally take an active interest in this question of price control.

The Minister, in the course of his statement, referred to the functions of Grain Importers, Ltd., one of which includes the issuing of maize to maize millers. It appears that nobody can get maize for milling except he has been engaged in the milling of maize for 12 months preceding the war. I think that, as a matter of fact, there was a particular date set down in the Order—31st July. I should like to know from the Minister if he is quite satisfied that the Order has been scrupulously adhered to. I have had a case brought to my notice in which a grave hardship was inflicted on a man simply because he was technically caught out by the terms of the Order. The result, so far as he is concerned, is that he has been deprived of the right to mill maize.

He had been milling maize in his own small mill, and he got a further licence from the Department to transfer it to different premises which he had elsewhere which would be more convenient to him, which he hoped would make the production of the maize meal more economical and save cartage. He had some delay in putting up the machinery in the new premises, and owing to this delay he had not been milling on the 31st July. But as a matter of fact, under the licence of the Department of Industry and Commerce, he was milling in September, 1939. Yet that man has been put out of action and employment for two of his men has been lost. That man now has to purchase 50 tons of maize meal that he wanted for his customers from a firm of grain importers, instead of taking the maize from that firm and crushing it in the ordinary way in his own mill. I submit to the Minister that that was too strict a reading of the Order, especially in view of the fact that this man and his family for over 50 years past had been distributing maize in that district. No point could be made that it was more economical to put that man out of business. That in itself was bad enough, but I have been reliably informed that a licence was issued by the Department of Supplies to somebody else who never milled maize before. I would like to see the scales held fairly, and I would ask an assurance from the Minister that he will reconsider this case and undo the hardship that he has inflicted on the man I have mentioned. There is one outstanding incident as to the value of the Prices Commission, and that glaring case was discussed in Kilkenny, where the Prices Commission insisted on increasing the price of milk from 1/4 a gallon to 1/6 a gallon, though the producers were quite satisfied to sell at 1/4 a gallon. I wonder if the commission have been hauled over the coals because of that particular transaction which has caused an amount of indignation all over the country?

The Deputy should not believe all he hears from the Kilkenny Workers' Council.

I do not need to add one word to Deputy Hurley's argument about the Prices Commission, but it appears to me this is an outstanding case of the inutility of that commission. I would like to hear from the Minister that he intends to reconsider the case I have mentioned, where very severe hardship has been inflicted on an individual in the one case, and in the other where a man who had never had a licence has been given one.

I want to refer to a matter that is perhaps problematical. The Minister has told us that the surplus wool of this country is to be sold to the British Control Board. He is probably aware that the best market for the wool from black-faced sheep is to be found in America. Considering the way in which other British Control Boards are treating us with regard to food and other agricultural products, and that they do not treat us very generously, I do not think we should unnecessarily throw ourselves into their lap. When those control boards were set up in England people in this country thought that they were going to get a reasonably fair crack of the whip.

I think we will admit now that we are getting a very hard crack of the whip. Definitely, the Minister should not tie his hands in this matter of the wool unless he is treated fairly, in other words, unless the British Control Board pays the current market prices for that article. The Minister should do nothing to penalise the people who in the main have to live by their sales of agricultural produce. In the case of the owners of mountainy farms, a very large part of their income comes from the wool clip of their sheep, which is an important asset helping them to make a few pounds. The British Control Board should not be in a position to take advantage of that. With regard to wheat, did I understand the Minister to say that he had approximately about five months' supply on hands? Is that correct?

And then there are the pending arrivals.

The five months' supply includes the pending arrivals.

I want to call the Minister's attention, if he has not seen it already, to an article in Irish Industry for April. That article is headed “No Profits”. It refers to a company known as Grain Importers Limited, and to the statements of the Minister here that that was a company that was importing and selling grain without any profits. At all events that was the impression the Minister's speech gave throughout the country. The opinion of Irish Industry is that not only is that company getting profits but that they are getting double profits, that in fact they are getting 50 per cent. over and above what they had when these regulations were made. The companies that were previously importing were getting 15 per cent. extra. I will read for the House a couple of extracts from the article:—

"From the statement by Grain Importers Limited published in our last issue, we knew beyond any doubt that a profit is being made on the importation of maize into this country. We know also, what we did not know before, that a double profit is being made in the importation of maize since the incorporation of Grain Importers (Éire) Limited. No wonder that company, with a capital of £100, can be a non-profit-making company. The official statement makes that double profit clear beyond any possibility of doubt. In pre-emergency days a firm embarked its capital in the maize business and it made a certain profit, otherwise it would not be in that business. Now mark what happens at present according to that official statement. The firm puts up its capital to Grain Importers (Éire) Limited and, on that capital so put up, it gets the current bank overdraft rate. Let us say, for example, it is 5 per cent.; then the firm gets for a start, 5 per cent. on its capital so advanced."

I now pass on to another portion of the paper, it goes on to say:—

"Now let us assume what is a reasonable assumption that the capital so advanced by any one firm is turned over three times a year. It gets 5 per cent. on each turnover, so that the firm gets finally 15 per cent. for the year on the capital advanced to Grain Importers (Éire) Limited and, in addition, it gets the same remuneration as it obtained in pre-emergency days. Hence, those firms engaged in importing whole cargoes of maize in pre-emergency days have their original profits guaranteed to them and, in addition, they get about 15 per cent. on their capital advanced to buy maize."

That is on the assumption that they turn over their capital three times, they get 15 per cent. I do not want to say that is true, but it is for the Minister to clarify the position. I am putting it before him to give him an opportunity of doing so. There seems to be a great deal of confusion in the minds of the people on this matter. They are told here that the company has been formed and that it is doing certain services for the benefit of the public generally. Not only is it getting a profit but it is getting 15 per cent. over and above the normal profit. That is a matter that the Minister can deal with I am sure, and I only wish to give him an opportunity to do so.

As to the supply of phosphates, I think that any time the Minister can get the raw material for phosphates he should not miss the opportunity. Supplies of manures will always be necessary and if we can get them I am sure they will keep. If nothing is done until they are wanted, the chances are 100 to 1 against our getting supplies in time, and then there will be a shortage as there was this year. I hope that no opportunity will be missed of getting these phosphatic fertilisers any time they can be got.

The Minister also referred to the shortage of coal. I think that the Minister should not lose any time in giving all the publication possible to the likely shortage of coal, because now is the time to provide plenty of turf to meet that shortage. People who are in the habit of burning coal should be notified that they will not be able to get coal in future, so that they may have time to make provision against that. If the matter is allowed to lie quietly for a month or two, it will be too late to provide for alternative fuel. Therefore, I think the Minister would be well-advised to give plenty of publication to this matter at once.

There is another matter in the same connection which I would like to bring to the Minister's notice. The Parliamentary Secretary in charge of the Office of Public Works spoke yesterday of the difficulty of getting suitable works for employment schemes. I think that there is here an opportunity, if the Department were not so hidebound and tied down by formalities, to set about simple schemes that could be worked without any extra expenditure on machinery. For instance, I know districts, and I am sure every Deputy knows districts where there are large tracts of bogs and, at the same time, there are hundreds of unemployed people drawing unemployment assistance in those districts. Coal is being imported into those districts and used year after year. Could not the Minister, in co-operation with other Departments, provide some simple scheme to give a certain amount of money by way of subsidy to wages paid to people employed through the labour exchanges for the purpose of cutting turf in those districts? It would then be up to those people, who have plenty of bog or who could secure bog for the purpose, to employ as many people and cut as much turf as they wish. They would know that they were offered so much, and they could decide for themselves whether 5/- per ton or 10/- per ton would make it worth while for them to take all the chances and work the scheme. If the Minister offered a certain sum, in certain districts it might be availed of, and in others it might not. It could be confined to people who are unemployed.

There are plenty of unemployed people who would be glad to get work on the bogs. In these mountainy districts there are people, such as very small farmers and their sons, who are not half employed at all seasons of the year on their own bits of land. If some such scheme as this were adopted, there would be a greatly increased supply of turf. At present some people, with the labour of their own families, supply turf for sale. It is necessary now, owing to the shortage of coal, to increase the supply of turf for sale to those people who have been in the habit of buying coal. I think the Minister should try to work out some scheme like that in co-operation with other Departments, such as the Land Commission, which has something to do with the provision of bogs. I ask the Minister, in this time of difficulty, when there is so much unemployment, to co-operate with other Departments in devising some sort of workable scheme. It would go some way to relieve unemployment and, at the same time, provide the necessary supply of fuel.

I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but I really expected the Minister to say something about the supply and prices of meat. In a reply to a Parliamentary Question which I put down a few weeks ago, the Minister stated that the supply of meat is as good as ever and the prices are reasonable. The prices are reasonable in so far as the butchers cannot increase them. If they increase them any more the people will not pay the prices. If the Minister inquires into this matter I think he will find that the smaller butchers in the most congested areas of the city cannot get any more for the meat than they are getting while they are paying higher prices for cattle in the Dublin market every Thursday. Every Thursday the prices appear to be going up. In the report of the Dublin cattle market in this evening's paper I notice that prices ruled higher and that supplies were down again. The number of beasts on sale was 1,096, a decrease of 40, as compared with last week. In the corresponding week in 1939 there were 1,543 beasts on sale; that is a 50 per cent. decrease. There is a gradual decrease in the numbers every week. The number of sheep and lambs was 6,559, against 8,378 in the corresponding week in 1939. If the situation is not already bad, it certainly does not augur well for the future. I think the Minister should reassure the public by letting them know what the position is and whether we can expect to continue to get a reasonable supply of meat.

I do not think Deputy Byrne need have the slightest fear that our supplies of beef will run out. I have nothing to do with the fluctuation in the numbers of animals offered at the Dublin market on Thursday mornings. These cattle are mainly for export. I think we have an excess production of beef.

Cattle are very scarce now.

Our production of beef is far in excess of our own requirements, and there is very little likelihood of any shortage. It is true that prices have gone up, and that the increased prices will diminish the sales of certain retailers. I do not see any remedy for that. The increase in prices is due largely to increased prices for cattle for export, and it is not possible that any action we could take, other than a direct subsidy, which I think is impracticable, would effect a reduction.

Deputy Dockrell is, I think, slightly confused concerning the functions of my Department in regard to prices. Deputy Hurley is also somewhat confused on that question. The Prices Commission, which functions under the Control of Prices Act, still exists, but the whole organisation of the commission, including the personnel of the commission, now constitutes the Prices Branch of the Department of Supplies. It operates under the Emergency Powers Act. That Act is wider in scope than the Control of Prices Act, in so far as it deals with all kinds of prices, whereas the Control of Prices Act deals only with manufacturers' prices.

Deputy Dockrell complained that the Prices Commission is confining itself to manufacturers' prices alone, and did not deal with distributors' prices. If he is referring to the commission as such he is right, because the commission is confined by the Act which constituted it to manufacturers' prices, but so far as the Prices Branch of the Department of Supplies is concerned, it deals with prices of all kinds, including prices charged by retail distributors. I can assure the Deputy that if there is any danger of the situation that he visualised arising, that is to say, prices being fixed for manufacturers which do not take into full account the circumstances of retail distributors, then I will give it my personal attention.

Deputy Dockrell gave an example.

I can give Deputy McMenamin examples of a thousand allegations that that has happened. However, the Deputy may be assured that there is no animosity to retail distributors, much less a desire to effect a reduction or avoid a rise in prices at their instance. The objective of the Prices Commission is to deal fairly with all interests and if, in some cases, the margin allowed retail distributors has been cut, as it has been cut, then the Prices Commission considered such action was, in all the circumstances, perfectly justifiable.

Deputy Benson referred to our supplies of paper, and I can assure him in a general way that there is no need for concern. So far as the class of papers that we import from Great Britain is concerned, we are an export market for the purpose of the British regulations, and consequently the restrictions they are imposing on the internal consumption of paper for special purposes do not operate to restrict exports to this country. Our supply of newsprint at present is reasonably satisfactory. In the ordinary way some 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. of it comes from Canada and the balance from the Baltic. It is not correct to say that we have not taken action to economise in the use of newsprint. We have done so by voluntary arrangement with the newspapers, and by that a reduction in the total tonnage used has been already effected. A further reduction will be coming into operation in the near future, and another reduction at the end of June. We have preferred to operate by getting voluntary reductions in the tonnage used rather than by making regulations concerning the size of papers, or in any other way. Of course, if we do not get by voluntary act the desired reduction of tonnage, we will have to proceed by Order.

I think Deputies will appreciate that the voluntary arrangement, based on tonnage, gives the newspaper proprietors certain liberty of action. They can economise by cutting the size, by reducing circulation, or by having a larger paper one day than another day. So long as that system operates to get the actual reduction in the quantity of paper used that we desire to achieve, there is no reason why we should interfere. If it does not operate to get the reduction desired, then we will have to proceed by order, fixing, as in other countries, the maximum size, or in some other way placing obligations upon newspaper proprietors.

The position concerning cardboards was affected by the invasion of Holland, where most of our supplies come from. Fortunately we have about one year's normal supply in stock, so that the problem in relation to it will not arise immediately. So far as wrapping paper and craft papers are concerned, and the constituents required for their manufacture, they are manufactured here from wood pulp, waste paper, and rags. The proportion of wood pulp used can be altered in relation to waste paper and rags. With the cutting off of pulp supplies from the Baltic, steps are being taken to see that existing stocks, which are not small, will be spread over as long a period as possible.

We have had considerable difficulty in maintaining supplies of animal and other fats. Our existing arrangements are working satisfactorily, and users of facts find they are now amply supplied with raw material in sufficient quantities to enable them to get full production. I do not say that difficulties will not arise again, but, at the moment, they have been overcome and no anxiety exists. The same is true concerning starch. Although there was some difficulty at the beginning, the position, as we understand it, is now normal, and we do not anticipate that difficulties are likely to arise in the immediate future.

Deputy Benson referred to the importance of saving waste materials. We must not allow ourselves to be influenced unduly by what has happened in another country that is at war, where the problems are different from ours. As far as waste paper is concerned, we are getting all we want. Manufacturers of wrapping paper who use waste paper as raw material are getting all they require to keep up production. The same is true as far as scrap iron and other waste materials, which are used as the raw material of industry, are concerned. If a problem should arise involving scarcity of some particular materials, we may have to take other action. The general problem of securing the collection of waste materials for use in industry as raw material is being examined. There is also the problem of securing economy in the use of materials which may become scarce and that is having consideration. Deputy Hughes inquired when the price of wool will be fixed. I stated that that matter is being negotiated. I could not answer the Deputy's question, because the answer will depend on when we consider a satisfactory price has been offered. We clearly appreciate the desirability of bringing these negotiations to a speedy conclusion, and every effort to do so will be made.

So far as the supplies of artificial manures are concerned, Deputy Hughes will appreciate that, when he said that apart from shipping there should be no difficulty, he is, of course, leaving out what is the only difficulty.

I did not say that. I know that shipping is the only difficulty. The rock is there still.

So far as animal feeding stuffs and most classes of fertilisers are concerned, not merely is the supply position easy, but it is easier than ever it was because, formerly, Holland and Belgium were importers of these materials on a far greater scale than we are. They cannot import now, and supplies which they would ordinarily get are available for purchase. The only difficulty in getting them is that of procuring shipping, and the only reason why costs have gone up is because the cost of shipping has increased. As Deputies are aware, we have been depending on neutral shipping for the transport of our supplies. We chartered neutral ships but, unfortunately, the number of neutrals is shrinking very rapidly and our difficulties in connection with shipping are not likely to diminish. On the contrary, they are likely to increase.

As regards harvesting machinery and the procuring of tractor-plough parts, I cannot say that no difficulties will arise. On the contrary, in relation to articles of machinery or articles manufactured from steel, difficulties are reasonably to be expected. I can assure the Deputy that the Department will do everything possible to overcome these difficulties, but it is almost inevitable that there will be difficulties. Deputy Hurley paid me the compliment of repeating almost verbatim the speech he made here on March 7, when the Supplementary Estimate was under discussion. I should like to pay him the compliment of repeating verbatim the answer I gave on that occasion. For reasons of economy, I ask him to read the statement made by me then. I do not think it is true to say that the people are not availing of our price investigation machinery because it is cumbersome. It is anything but cumbersome. In my opinion, no simpler machinery could be devised. If it is possible to simplify the machinery, I shall be only too glad to do so or receiving suggestions from any Deputy. Under the existing machinery, any member of the public can make any complaint he or she may wish to make concerning the price charged for any commodity on any occasion. There is no longer any question of producing evidence of purchase or receipted bills. The mere furnishing of the complaint will get the machinery working and, provided the persons in charge do not think that the complaint is merely frivolous, it will be followed up by an inspector who is fully authorised to carry out an investigation and fully empowered to get all the information necessary for that investigation.

I cannot assure Deputy Hurley that supplies of building materials necessary to support a normal building programme will be available. Up to the present, no substantial difficulty concerning building materials, other than steel, have been experienced. So far as timber is concerned, there are ample stocks in the country. So far as other building materials are concerned, we are either producing them here in sufficient quantity or we have had no difficulty yet in getting supplies from abroad or we have existing stocks ample to carry on for the present.

What about butter-box timber?

I could not answer that question straight away.

It is a matter of importance. They may find it necessary to depart from the pyramid boxes.

It is clearly impossible to give an assurance of the kind that Deputy Hurley is seeking, that no difficulties will arise. Difficulties will inevitably arise. It is because difficulties in securing supplies are regarded as inevitable that this Department exists. If there were no inevitable difficulties, there would be no need for this organisation. As regards the complaint of Deputy Keyes respecting the allocation of maize to millers, it is quite clear that, no matter what basis we work on, somebody will have a grievance. We decided to confine the milling of maize to those actually milling maize during the 12 months prior to the outbreak of war. If there were no limitations on our supply of maize, we should not have to impose that limitation. It is because supplies are scarce that we cannot allow allocations to those who want to go into the business now or even to give to those in the business their full normal requirements. Whether we work on the basis of the 12 months immediately prior to the war or any other basis, somebody is going to be left out and somebody will have a grievance. We tried to make the working of the scheme as equitable as possible. Everybody who can possibly support a claim for allocation of maize is interested in doing so. Here is a commodity which is scarce, for which there is a demand and the price of which is rising rapidly. It is, of course, good business for anybody to get an allocation of maize to mill if they can do so. We have been deluged with applications from people who had not been milling maize during the qualifying period but who still think they have some claim for allocation of a supply of maize. We rejected these applications, with the exception of one or two. In these one or two cases, we decided that the equity was in favour of giving the allocation. These were, I think, mainly cases of people who were questioning the amount of maize allotted to them rather than the case of people who were trying to establish a right to get maize at all. In every case we have strictly confined the allocation of maize because we had not a surplus to distribute. If we gave an additional allocation to one miller, that would have to be taken from the allocation of somebody else. If we gave an allocation to a person who was not milling at all in the qualifying period, that amount would have to be taken off those who were milling in the qualifying period.

What I asked was, if you gave a licence to people to mill maize and did not give it to somebody else who had been milling in the qualifying period.

Anybody who was a licensed miller during the qualifying period is getting an allocation based upon the quantity of maize he milled during that period. Deputy McMenamin raised a question regarding black-faced wool.

Not black-faced wool but wool from black-faced sheep, which is slightly different.

I call it black-faced wool and I think it is the same thing. It is not at all clear that the British Ministry of Supply will agree to buy it at all. The view of the Department of Agriculture and those more directly concerned is that the best arrangement would be, if we could get it, to sell all our wool in bulk to the British Wool Control, but it is quite possible that the British Wool Control will refuse to take the wool in which Deputy McMenamin is interested.

That does not worry me.

I do not think the Deputy can be fully confident that it will be possible to sell the wool in the United States at a better price than that in Great Britain.

We were informed by a certain magazine recently that Great Britain had cornered the wool supply and sold portion of it at 25 per cent. profit to America. Is that correct?

The British are themselves producers of black-faced wool and have been selling some of it.

It was suggested that they sold wool to America at 25 per cent. profit.

The British bought all the Australian output for the duration of the war.

And the South African output too.

They bought most of the wool available in the world. The only reason we have been able to get an exceptionally good price in Holland and the United States is because of the temporary shortage created by their purchases. That situation is now changed. The price which we have been obtaining for wool in America is falling rapidly. Apart from that aspect of the matter, there are administrative reasons why it is considered in the interests of the wool producers that we should make a bulk sale of our wool, if possible. But we may not be able to do so by reason of the fact that the British will not buy that particular sort of wool. However, that is subject to negotiation at the moment.

I hope the Minister will not let the owners of black-faced sheep down?

I can assure the Deputy that they rest very near to the heart of the Minister for Agriculture. If I heard as much about other things during the last couple of months as I heard about these people from the Minister, I would know a lot. As it is, I do know a good deal about them. I know all about their interests, because the Minister for Agriculture has been talking continuously about them. I would advise Deputy McGovern not to pay too much attention to what he reads in the particular publication he was quoting from. It is true there are grain merchants in this country who are engaged in the business of importing grain and reselling it to millers in normal circumstances. These people are still handling the grain which is imported by Grain Importers, Limited. They are the distributing channels through which the grain goes to the millers, who were their customers in the past, and are still their customers. So far as it is humanly possible for skilled accountants to devise it, there is no possibility of Grain Importers, Limited, making a profit on the transaction. If they do, it will be there for the Government to take.

Where could we get that information?

This is an organisation which we set up.

I submit that the others make a profit.

If they make a profit, it is there for us to decide what to do with it. Perhaps they do make an occasional profit. Deputies will understand that the allocation price for maize or wheat may be yielding a return slightly in excess of the purchase price, but if it does, it will be used later to effect a reduction.

Is that done?

It is done. Instead of letting the price fluctuate from day to day, we try to keep it level for as long as possible, and then, perhaps, raise or lower it.

They may not be getting a profit, but the others are getting a very big profit, and I should like the Minister to investigate the matter so as to clear that point up.

The Deputy can be assured that the Department of Supplies and the Controller of Flour have full particulars about every aspect of that matter, in so far as it is possible to get information in relation to a very complicated trade. Apparently, the Deputy has not been reading the newspapers in regard to turf production. The Government have been engaged in a publicity campaign to get people to increase turf supplies. I cannot deal with the suggestion that turf-cutting should be subsidised. It would be entirely unwise to subsidise turf production. Those who are engaged in cutting turf can expect a reasonable return for their labour at the present time, and they might be expected to increase production in such circumstances without the inducement of a subsidy. I think I have dealt with most of the points raised, but if Deputies require information on particular matters, I shall be only too glad, if they get in touch with my Department, to give them that information, if it is possible to do so.

Motion: "That the Estimate be referred back for reconsideration," by leave, withdrawn.

The Minister assured me that he would look into the points I raised.

Vote put and agreed to.
Progress reported.