The Deputy ought to read his speech; he ought to send himself a marked copy of it and read it and, if that does not emerge, I do not know what does. I am interested in the more mundane matters we have been discussing, far away from those high flights in which the Parliamentary Secretary indulged. I am appreciative of the Parliamentary Secretary's comments on the effect public opinion may have on criticisms in this House and his desire that everybody should get together. I was amazed to find that there is a limit to the supply of vegetable oils coming into the country and that some have to be given to those manufacturing soap and some to those manufacturing margarine. As long as the Parliamentary Secretary is about, we will not lack one of these essentials. Does the Parliamentary Secretary understand what happened here last week when, on the eve of a debate which was going to be critical and which might easily have affected the public mind in the way he detests, a Deputy from this side visited the Minister for Agriculture and forewarned him of all the matters agitating the minds of the public as far as we could get a warning, and put him wise to what was going to be said? The gratitude we got was a speech which wound up with the phrase that the whole effort here was political bluff. That is the type of mentality we have to deal with.
I think the Parliamentary Secretary has blundered into one good thing. He indicated that the situation facing us in this country is enveloped in conditions which are likely to have disastrous effects. We are faced still with a Party Government. In those circumstances people, I think, are entitled to demand that not merely should the Dáil meet more frequently, but that it must meet in such an atmosphere that good can come of its meetings. No good can come of its meetings unless there is information readily at the disposal of Deputies, and unless those in charge of information on the other side are frank with regard to the facts they know. I complain bitterly of the treatment accorded to us in all these matters. I could take up from these benches statistics given confidentially to people on this side. They are not to be quoted, but there is nobody who reads them can believe in the speeches made from the Government Benches last night. There was a statement made with regard to the export of potatoes and the export in 1939 as opposed to 1940, and the Taoiseach yesterday gave a figure of a variation of between 100 and 1,000 tons. I suggest that if he looks at the confidential trade report given to people on this side, he will find that he has completely misstated the position, and that there was a vast export, amounting to ten times or, at least, nine times, what there was in 1939.
What are we to believe of the information then which we cannot check up by this particular type of document sent to us when we find blatantly announced last night so crude a misstatement as that? I think we are entitled to information. I think people feel that we have some work to do here, and if there was any sort of combination of forces, they would have the belief that, in any event, representative people, having different viewpoints, were hammering out their difficulties around a Government table instead of here; but as that situation has not developed—and I do not think very many people want it—the other situation would be better, that is, that we should have the free play of criticism here, but that criticism is not going to be any good unless it is founded on fact.
Again, coming round to the very specialised and mundane matters, I want to analyse what has happened with regard to three or four of these things of which we have some information. So far as petrol is concerned, petrol in the life of the community possibly means very little in the end, but it may be symptomatic of what was happening in Government Buildings. Right at the beginning, there was a suggestion made and quite definitely made—and that it was made can be backed by documents—that there should be increased storage in this country. That matter was threshed out as between the petrol distributing companies and the Government, and for some reason—we do not know how —it came to nought. The situation that then emerged was that there was very limited storage accommodation in the country. If that was the situation, and if that was known to the people in charge of that matter, surely they should have been alert to arrange that, in the particular month in which the sinkings of boats of all types increased, they would at least diminish the quantity being supplied to consumers.
There is no necessity to recite the facts so often gone through here. All of a sudden, as between the forenoon and the afternoon of Christmas Eve, a serious situation developed and as an excuse—and it cannot be too often repeated here—in respect of the situation which then developed the Minister blandly asks if he could have been expected to know that tankers would be sunk. It is all very well, in answer to that, to have the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary in his speech that nobody can foretell from day to day what is going to happen. This was the big aspect of the war that jutted out to anybody's notice when the war started—that it was a war which was definitely going to be conducted, so far as one side at least was concerned, on the lines of attempting to sink every vessel that floated, and if anybody, being anxious about the petrol situation and knowing that supplies were dependent on overseas trade, had simply taken a chart of the rate at which sinkings were increasing, there was at least a warning conveyed there.
It is no answer to that general picture that must have been before the mind of anybody who talked at all about the war to say that nobody could have foreseen the amazing changes that developed over the year 1940. The one thing that stood out to the notice of anybody, who knew anything about the last war, or who read anything about the threats in connection with this war, and saw the progress of those threats towards reality, was that unrelenting attacks were going to be made on everything sailing the seas and that these attacks were becoming more and more successful in certain months of the year. Yet it took until Christmas Eve, and some statement from London, to get the Minister here warned that a serious situation, not was developing, because that knowledge should have been present in his mind before that, but had developed to such an extent that a definite emergency was on.
The petrol situation to some extent, although, by itself, it may not rank as a very essential commodity, is bound up with the food situation, and, with regard to wheat, the position developing in Government Buildings as presented to the minds of people outside must have been something like this, that we had a Minister for Agriculture who must have known that the reserve of wheat at any time in storage was something in the neighbourhood of 67,000 tons. There was no higher ration than 67,000 tons, which does not do for every long, but, with that, he had whatever supplies were coming in, and going through the country, all of which could be consumed in a certain limited period. The man who knew that his carry-over, in the sense of a real reserve, was 67,000 tons must have had ever present to his mind certain months in the year. The months had different relations to this particular situation, but that Minister for Agriculture, knowing anything, must have known that if he let a particular period of the year go past in which only the normal sowings of wheat were going to take place, and if this failure to get ships, which, luckily for us, happened before Christmas, had happened in January or February, the situation was going to be even desperate.
I say again that any Minister who saw the two things: the date at which he must get going if he is to have increased sowings of winter wheat and the fact that he had something less than 70,000 tons of wheat as his ration, should have been specially anxious and alert, should have been scanning the papers and listening to the wireless, getting any information he could, secretly or openly, to find out what was the situation with regard to the possibility of cargoes of wheat coming in here around about the months of July, August and September, and if it meant nothing more than looking at a chart of the sinkings, he should have been alarmed and alert at that particular period. If he and the Minister in charge of the supplies of petrol had happened accidentally to meet and the talk had accidentally turned to the question of wheat, and the Minister for Agriculture had said, in an offhand way to his colleague: "Remember that if there is going to be extra farm work done, there will be extra petrol required", then there might have been a conjunction of the two people, one concerned about his day-to-day petrol supplies, because we are obviously living in a hand-to-mouth way, and the other with the matter of getting increased sowings, if it emerged that no ships were going to sail the seas with cargoes of wheat for this country. If they had happened accidentally to meet and talk on the matter, they were two people who should have been gravely alert to the danger of the situation as it was developing.
In any event, so far as we can gather from these inconsistent statements made from time to time, they apparently did get a precise and definite warning somewhere in the month of November, to the effect that it had been found impossible to charter a single boat to carry wheat to this country for some weeks before. The month of November was a critical period. In the month of December, the situation became even more critical, and the only warning we get of any serious situation developing is when the Prime Minister of the country goes to the wireless to address the Americans, and not the people of this country. He addressed America and says to the Americans: "If the situation gets worse, see that we get supplies of wheat." The Prime Minister must be attentive to the implications of a speech like that. People would listen to it here and would say that there is no demand for increased tillage here, that there is no urgent problem presented, and they would probably more or less begin to wonder what he was at in talking to the Americans about sending us wheat. They would, probably, begin to wonder why he was talking to the Americans about sending us wheat because no rumour had crept out to the people here about any serious situation at that time. The fact that he addressed America and not his own people would have lulled them into a false sense of security. The fact that he used the phrase "if the situation gets worse" would have deepened the wrong sense of security that was bound to be generated by his method of address.
We were told last night—it was the first time an attempt was made to meet this point—that speeches had been addressed to the farming community and others in October, November and December. If that contention is to be persisted in, I shall have to ask to be told the dates on which these statements were made. From the official record, I find that the Minister for Agriculture addressed the people over the wireless on the last day of last year, and one of his opening phrases was: "The time of hesitancy is now past." That is his first emergence before the public as a messenger of bad news and it was not very seriously stressed at that particular time. It was not until about ten days later, when the Minister for Supplies sent us a note saying it was the duty of all of us to go out and campaign to get more wheat sown, that it became apparent that some emergency situation regarding wheat had arisen. I have recited these facts again and again. We are asked: why have all these post mortems, why debate what is past? The reason is that, if there is going to be Party government in the country, if we are to continue to entrust our fortunes to a group of people elected on a peculiarly Party basis, the use of criticism is to see that policy will be put right. If criticism makes its case, if it particularly makes the case that certain Ministers have failed in their duty, have failed to show that little bit of foresight which circumstances demanded, we ought to stress that again and again looking to either of two results—that the two Ministers who have erred in this particular matter will be changed for somebody else or, else, that we shall get some recognition from them that they have learned the lesson and that a similar set of circumstances, developing hereafter, will not be messed in the same way. I say that there is no excuse for what happened in regard to wheat if taken by itself. There is very little excuse for what happened in regard to petrol—for the sudden emergence of the situation— and there is no excuse for these two things emerging at that particular time together.
The other two matters discussed here have been discussed in the absence of any special information except what we were able to get by way of questions to the Government. I refer to tea and coal. This matter of coal was pushed further to-day and we got certain figures. These figures can be analysed and criticised afterwards. It appears that, although there is a charge made for taking the coal off the boat to the side of the quay, there is an additional charge of 2/- a ton, which is paid by the bellmen and others, for carting the coal from somewhere to the dump. What the necessity for that charge of 2/- a ton is I do not know. How it relates to the charge allowed for carting coal which has to be taken to the coal merchant's yard, I do not know either. These are things which we shall have to deal with later. One matter which still emerges causes me some difficulty. We have prices here for all-coal and for household coal and we have the charges made to bellmen. Take the case of all-coal, because the particular matter to which I shall refer arises on either. In January, the import price was 44/8. In February, it moved up to 45/-. That was an increase of 1/3 in the c.i.f. price at Dublin. The price to the bellmen in January was 52/-. and in mid-February it was 63/-. There was an increase in the c.i.f. cost of 1/3 as between these two months, but the increase in the charge made to bellmen amounted to 11/-. I know that the figure we had this morning—12/- or 14/—is included in the difference between 44/8 and the 52/- charged to the bellmen in January. That is carried forward in this move-up from 45/11 to the 63/- charged to the bellmen in February. Coal moves up by 1/3 as between these two months and the charge to the bellmen moves up by 11/-.
The question of tea we can only pursue a certain length. We must refrain from quoting the statistical information given to us in a confidential way. One can get the same information in conversation with any of the wholesale tea merchants. More tea— talking of quantity—was imported, by a considerable amount, in the year 1940 than was imported in 1938 or 1939. The difference in price-average, as between 1940 and 1939, is 1¾d. It can justly be said that cheap tea has disappeared out of this country. Why? If more tea was brought in and if the difference in price-average is less than 2d. per lb., why is it that there is no cheap tea available to the people who want cheap tea at the moment? The Minister for Supplies rang the changes on this matter of averages. His argument is something like this—that an article which would cost £1 at the beginning of the year might go to £5 at the end of the year and the average for the year would be £3. Apply that standard to this matter of tea. If he means that tea over the whole year had risen 2d. per lb. but had risen considerably at the end of the year, then there was some period in 1940 in which the price of tea was well below the average of 1939 and, at some period of the year 1940, tea should have been much cheaper than it was in 1939. Was that so? I can find no record of it.
As between two motions, this Vote on Account and the Central Fund Bill, we have had three days' debate. Petrol, wheat, tea and coal are the four things which have occupied a considerable amount of time in these three days. Can anybody go off to his constituents and say he has a clear picture of what has happened in regard to coal and tea, that he can explain the amazing increase in the price of coal, particularly to the poor, that he can explain this increase of 1/3 in the c.i.f. price and the increase of 11/- to the bellmen, or can he say that he can explain to the community, to whom he has to render some account, why there is no cheap tea to be had at the moment? If we cannot explain that, it means that we have not got the information from statistics. Either they have it in a way in which it cannot be disclosed or published or for some reason or other they have determined not to give the information. There is, of course, a feeling growing in the country that there is any amount of tea here, that people are being allowed to hold it, until they see a definite increase is likely to be allowed by the Government. These merchants who have held and hoarded tea were overloaded and complaints were made, as Deputy Hickey has made with regard to coal, and they will never be answered.
We will have a different situation later with regard to tea. Deputy Hickey apparently has complained that coal brought in last August at a relatively low price is being sold at the price that obtains at the moment. The situation hereafter will be that, somewhere in 1941, tea imported either early in 1940—when, on the interpretation of the Minister's interruption, tea was relatively cheap—will be sent out to the public at an extravagant rate, on which the merchants will get an immense profit. These are matters which could have been dealt with here by a mere parade of figures, statements as to quantity and prices, as to the average prices per month and the quantity imported per month.
Again, we are told that it is not in the public interest to say what supplies of tea were brought in. That brings me to another point. I remember the time, early in the war, when questions were put down as to the number of persons in the Defence Forces, and the Minister for Defence said that it would not be in the public interest to disclose that. A little later, in public debate, when we were discussing the question of supplies for the Army, we were told—definitely warned off, and we took the warning—that we should not, in too much detail, develop this matter of the armaments in the country, as it would be injudicious and lead to harmful results. We accepted that viewpoint. At times questions have been put down which were inquisitive on this matter of armaments, and we were again warned—and the warning was again accepted—that it was dangerous. But, when it suits the Government's purpose, the Prime Minister of this country can go to the radio station and broadcast to America asking them to help us in the way of providing armaments. Now, if any Deputies had dared to suggest, a week before that, that we were looking in any way for arms, that we had not all the equipment we needed, they would have been shouted down from the housetops as traitors. Then we were told that the Minister for the CoOrdination of Defensive Measures who, about three years ago had assured this House that there was no State better equipped than ours in its defensive armament, had now set out, apparently uninvited, on a long journey across the water to the United States, and one of the things he has to get is arms and military equipment.
I put down a question in November regarding ships sunk. A correspondent wrote to me on that point and it seemed a proper question to put and one on which one could expect reasonable information. He asked me to find out what ships carrying cargoes to this country had been sunk, how many were in convoy, how many were flying the Irish flag and what was the particular type of cargo they carried. Immediately there was a flurry and a fluster in the background of the Government when the question appeared, and I was asked if I would remove the question from the Order Paper, and I said "certainly." I was told then that I would be given certain information for my own use. That, of course, was of no value to me. I was dealing with a correspondent who wanted to be in a position to use that information. I was told that it was not desirable to give it. I got a memorandum which I was not allowed to reveal to the individual—a man occupying a prominent position in the business life of the people.
Within a fortnight the question of the mercantile marine came up at a meeting of the Federation of Irish Industries and the Minister for Industry and Commerce, who had refused the information to me as being undesirable, went down to meet that argument for the mercantile marine and used the information which it was not desirable in the public interest to give to me in the House. I cannot see that a fortnight meant all the difference between the matter being fair for him to divulge and unfair for a Deputy to get for a correspondent. I have no doubt that, sooner or later, but at the time at which it becomes of value to the Government, we will be told what supply of tea was brought into the country in 1939 as compared with 1940. This pretence that it is not in the public interest to give the information will be kept up until it serves some Government purpose to change it. We could have been given certain small items of information, certain details and figures such as those which were extracted from the Minister for Supplies to-day. These could easily have been given earlier in this debate or in an earlier debate, and further comments could have been made on them, and in that way the truth could have been made clear to the public. Instead of getting detailed information, we got two statements so big and so general that they must, of course, be received with suspicion immediately.
The Minister for Supplies has boasted here in the House, as he has boasted to two audiences outside, that the fact that after 18 months of war the situation in this country is as easy as it is in the matter of supplies is due entirely to his Department. That, of course, allows nothing at all in the way of credit to the industrialists who have attended to their ordinary work, I suppose, in that time, or to bankers who have given credit facilities, or to anybody else. The whole work of the community, in so far as it has resulted in a relatively easy situation in the matter of supplies 18 months after the war started, is put down as being to the credit of the Minister and his Department. The mere fact that he makes such a claim puts it out of court. It would not bear examination for a second. Stated as broadly as it is, it condemns itself as a gross exaggeration. Even if it were made by a person less inclined to exaggerate than the Minister for Supplies, it would not be credited.
Further, he was asked in the debate yesterday, if he had done anything in the nature of credits for those bringing in supplies, for those who had foreseen the difficulty and, that being so, who would be inclined to buy, but found themselves without the financial resources to meet the burden. In two debates that particular question has been posed time and again, without a definite answer. But, in an interruption yesterday, he told us that he had provided credits for all industries and had done it nine months before the war broke out. No doubt, we will see repercussions from that statement when we get publicity for it. The situation now is, in so far as the Irish industrialist complains that he is short of raw materials and says that he knew there was going to be a difficulty about getting raw materials and tries to excuse himself on the ground that he had not the resources himself and could not get credits to bring the goods in, that man is not telling the truth, if the Minister for Supplies is.
The Minister stated that he had arranged with the banks to give credit for Irish industries. He made no limitation on the range, whatsoever. He said it applied to Irish industries generally. I know, with regard to one industry, the timber importing industry, one of the biggest importers in the South of Ireland had himself, of his own initiative, persecuted the Department of Supplies on this important matter of credit and urged them to get credit and put it at their disposal, to get the banks to loosen up and make credit easier. The result of his persuasion and persecution was that, two days before the war broke out, he got a letter from the Department of Supplies to say that the Government had now arranged credits so far as his particular business was concerned. Two days before the war broke out most of the value that could have been attached to an earlier easing of credit had gone. Notwithstanding that, the Minister tells us here that he had arranged credits and puts that down to the activities of this Department.
In a debate on a motion we had here lately before the House, a demand was made that the Government should now reveal what their plans were to deal with unemployment and cope with consequent distress. We got no answer during the course of the debate which ranged round that matter in another motion. We have a Vote on Account being taken here under which very heavy financial sacrifices are being demanded from the community, and I want to ask Deputies in this House: Do they think they could come away, after listening to this week's debate — and this week's debate, no matter what particular motion was before the House, ranged around this whole question of supplies—could any Deputy of this House now, after all this debate, go before a meeting of his constituents and tell them what definite plans the Government have to deal with supplies and to relieve the distress that exists in an acute form at the present moment and that will be more acute in the future? I suggest that no Deputy could, with any degree of equanimity, meet a group of his constituents believing that he had been given any ammunition as a result of this week's debate that would enable him to inform those who are querulous in that matter as to what is in store for them.
Two things emerged in that debate. Public attention was directed or concentrated on two special points. One was rationing and the other, which is essentially tied up with rationing, was price control. As far as price control is concerned, the Minister told us that he had one section of his Department functioning on that particular matter. Now, many Deputies have spoken on that, and I think that most of us are impressed rather with the lack of activity that there is on that particular side rather than with any undue hardship that has been caused by a too harsh pressure of the Department in connection with prices. The Minister referred also to a stand-still order that he made shortly after the outbreak of the war—on the 7th December, 1939. I had previously asked two Ministers here to tell us to how many things these two orders applied originally and to how many did they now apply. There may be some of these Emergency Price Control Orders of which I have no record, but I have a number of them —up to No. 74, of January, 1941. In looking through these orders I make out the result to be that the original stand-still order applied to 36 classes of goods—most of them were in this No. 1 Order—starting off with tea, coffee, cocoa, sugar, butter, margarine, bacon and hams, fresh meat, fresh milk, fresh fish flour, bread, lard, and so on, down. There were originally 36 classes of commodities. By degrees, other orders then came out saying that a particular stand-still order shall cease to apply to a named commodity. On going through these I find the result now is that the stand-still order was withdrawn in respect of from 28 to 30 of the classes to which the order originally applied. So that, out of the groups to which it recently applied, only six remain. One of these is flour and the other is bread, and that is because the price of the loaf depends upon the fixing of a price for flour; another is milk, and that was raised over a big number of these orders. In addition to the six outstanding from the original order, four others have been added in respect of certain commodities, including scrap iron and motor spirit. Although the Minister attempted to fix prices covering 36 commodities, he very soon withdrew his orders in respect of between 28 and 30 of them. Sometimes it is not possible to get a complete classification, because the thing varies from time to time, but there is the attempt to control prices so far as stand-still orders are concerned. They are put on and then withdrawn by degrees, with the result that first there were 36 commodities in respect of which it was thought worth while to put on a stand-still order at the beginning, and then a relaxation came, the orders were withdrawn, and the consumer was left at the mercy of the manufacturers who sold these products.
The Minister added to the idea of rationing the question of price control. For the life of me, I cannot see, and I still have to be convinced, that there is any great argument against setting about here and now the adoption of a system of rationing. The Minister told us that it is going to be expensive. No doubt it will. He told us that it will take time, and that is the worst of it. In the Seanad, the Minister who was substituting for the Minister for Supplies, said that it would take 12 months to do it. I cannot conceive that it would take so long, particularly in view of the meticulous way in which the Statistics Branch keep all their records; but even if it were to take six months, or even a more lengthy period than a year, the sooner the attempt is made the better. How can anybody believe—as Ministers, apparently, want them to believe—that the view Ministers have is that the war is only beginning, that it will go on for a long time, and that, as it goes on, more and more restrictions will have to be imposed on the people here, that commodities will be short in supply, prices will rise, and unemployment and distress will grow, when they see the attitude Ministers are adopting? They tell us all that, and, at the same time, they ask: "How can you get a fair distribution of restricted supplies except by a coupon system?" And they cannot give an alternative, or make an alternative suggestion, that commends itself to anybody.
Now, Ministers pretend here to be astonished that their words do not carry more weight with the public. How can they? Anybody who reads the newspapers knows that a quite ordinary feature of life in any of the beleagured countries at the moment, whether they are belligerent or neutral, is that they are short of certain things, and I know of no country that has not either adopted a full system of rationing or is struggling towards it through a series of intermediate steps. When Ministers speak of the serious situation that confronts the country at the moment, and endeavour to paint a gloomy picture, one thing that would impress people that a serious situation is impending would be to see Ministers setting about the establishment of a rationing system. Otherwise, we must only believe that they have reached a certain degree of complacency. They see a situation developing in which foodstuffs are going to be scarce, and that scarcity, they must know, will mean a scramble for the purchase of these commodities, and, in that scramble, unless there is some control, then the people who are able to afford the best prices will beat those who have not the same amount of cash.
People know that, in these conditions, the only plan that the wit of mankind, all over the world, has been able to devise is to parcel out these foodstuffs according to the number of mouths that have to be fed—which is all the more easily done in the case of a small country such as ours—and that that is done by means of a register and a system of rationing, depending upon family strength. People, knowing this, are naturally incredulous when they are told that the Government contemplates a great scarcity of certain foodstuffs and takes no measures to see that the restricted quantities will be distributed equally. They are incredulous and, of course, it is only natural when they see the slackness that there is in the attempt to control the prices charged to poor people for certain things that are really necessaries. Coal becomes of special importance in that regard.
People also think of this: The cost of living figure is taken by the State, and that cost of living figure increased very heavily in the last two quarters of last year, and the only response the Government have made to that is the adoption of one definite slogan: that they will allow no increase in wages to the wage earning section of the community where the demand for that increase is founded upon an increase in the cost of living. The background of that is the danger in this country, and in every other country, that if you start that particular game you get this terrific spiral of increased prices and increased wages and further price increases and further wage increases being demanded. While recognising that principle, I should have thought the best way for the Government to achieve the stability they seek would be to adopt a different slogan, and that would be that they would allow, and even look for, an increase in wages if the cost of living increased, and would take steps to see the cost of living did not increase, that they would give themselves the stimulus of saying to the community that the Government recognised the justice of the claim for increased wages where the cost of living had gone up—certainly where it had gone up in a big jump. I would expect them to keep prices low by saying: "That is the situation, and the only way we can prevent the spiral rising is by keeping the cost of living down."
People have got beyond not being impressed with these matters. People are growing quite cynical. I have asked here in a general way why is there not some attempt made to control the cost of living, and why, in particular, is there not some attempt made to control the extravagant prices that are being charged for certain things. The public have before their eyes every day things that show that the profiteer is rampant in our midst. They know that there have been favours from the Government in the past. They know that certain people have been allowed to feather their nests, very comfortably indeed, out of Government schemes, but they thought, once the emergency and critical period of war came, that these people would have their wings somewhat clipped, that their profits would be restricted and that they would be brought down to an ordinary standard of business in profiteering or profit-taking. We know the Ranks business is still going on. Whatever profits they made-and they have been gross and have been commented on in Government reports prior to the war-they have not been restricted in their activities to this moment.
The Minister, in a debate in January last, referred to Grain Importers, Limited, who have been set up to bring grain into this country. One of these days Parliamentary Questions will be addressed to him-but I have no doubt that the answer will be that it is not in the public interest to reply—to find out who are on the board of Grain Importers. As I understand the matter, it was proposed to allow on that board only those who qualified as importers by having imported, over three years that were taken, not less than a certain amount of grain and then it suddenly emerges there are people on that board who did not qualify under that description, and it emerges further that they were put on the board on the express direction of one of the Ministers.
Questions have been put about these Grain Importers, Limited, and to them, as to what they make for bringing in grain for the community. So far, all that has emerged is one figure, that they got about £250,000 a year which has to be divided between certain special expenses of bringing in grain and, whatever the rest is, remains divisible as profits between them. That body was described as a non-profit-making concern, in the debate on the 15th January. There is that board. Two special friends were put on that board at the express request of a Minister, and on the amount of grain that is brought in and the method by which they are allowed to make their charges, a calculation has been made that there is £250,000 in the balance. Why would the Minister not adopt with regard to that what the Minister for Agriculture has recently been forced to adopt in conection with the people who are purchasing meat for the city—he promised their accounts would be audited and the public would be allowed to know what they did get and how much of what they got was necessary expenses and how much would be for themselves? People have to be paid for their services, but the public would like to know the remuneration they got.
Deputy Dillon on a recent occasion referred to one test case. He took, in connection with this matter of prices, particular mills in Clare which got a monopoly for the making and sale of elastic. The prices were looked into, and it was considered that the prices were fair and reasonable. Owing to things which are the subject of proceedings elsewhere, a particular year had to be left out of account, but in the last year for which we have accounts, the published accounts of the company show that they made £25,000. That was a concern having a monopoly and, therefore, subject, I should imagine, to vigilant and close scrutiny by the Controller of Prices. That concern had its prices investigated and they were passed as being fair and reasonable. In a war situation in which unfortunate wage earners are not being allowed to get increases owing to the increased cost of living, the proprietors of a monopolistic concern in the country are allowed to get £25,000. I opened the paper to-day and found one bacon company talking of its last year's profits which they announce are just £12,000 up on the year before—£12,000 up. We know that the question of the dividend that was paid by that other very nearly monopolistic concern, the cement company of the country, was raised here. Certain criticism was expressed of them here, with the result that they lowered their dividend from ten to eight per cent. It was not that they had not the ten per cent. to distribute but the little bit of criticism that was made here with regard to the ten per cent. made them quote, in any event, the dividend declared to be eight per cent.
All this about Ranks, about Grain Importers, about the Clare mills, about the bacon company whose accounts were revealed to-day, and about the cement company, is happening. They are allowed to get away with these enormous profits and apparently no real attempt was made to restrict them. I understand that some definitely wrong construction was put upon a point I made here as to what had happened in England. I said that England, criticised by wireless propagandists as being the home of plutocracy, the last resort of the plutocrats of the world, had turned itself over to being a completely socialised State. Apparently that was taken as meaning that I was proposing that that should take place here too. I think if my words were read with what immediately follows, it will be found that it does not mean that I was proposing that that should take place here. In England, with all its tradition and its respect for property, they did that in the particular emergency, and it was not merely in order to get control of people; it was not merely to control man power. They have 100 per cent. taxes on what they call excess war profits, and they have other taxes, not of the excess war profits type, which are also imposed on their people. The Minister who introduced that measure, the Emergency Defence Bill, on the other side, in May of last year, told the community that the headline was that nobody was going to be allowed to make extra profits out of the war or during the war.
We face here a situation in which we are told the outlook is gloomy, that restrictions will come and limitations will have to be imposed on people. Notwithstanding that, you can pick up a newspaper at random and you will find that there are certain people who certainly are not attentive to the directions of the Government about restrictions and limitations.
The old game of profit-making is going on as merrily as ever. The result is not entirely due to that but is partly made up by it. As soon as there is an increase in the cost of living the wage earner is not to get any increase if a demand is made based on the fact that the cost of living has increased. I stress, and I will have to stress again and again, that the only way to deal with a situation of scarcity here is to approach it from two angles, by something in the nature of a rationing system, so that the poor will not be lost in the scramble for the restricted amount of goods for sale, and something to enable people, when they can reach the price, to know that there will be reserved for them an amount of particular necessities, that whether it is a matter of subsidising or not, as far as certain necessities of life are concerned, they will get them at such prices by a rationing system that will not be a complete farce; that they will get them at such prices against coupons corresponding to the strength of their households, and that they will have sufficient money for that purpose. Until we get to the region of a rigid system of rationing by coupons, a system that is seriously meant, and in order to prevent any evasion of trying to jump such prices, there will be no question of proper supplies.
We have been warned of the danger of misleading the population. Deputy Mulcahy was told about the danger of the red flag of revolution, and was asked if it was wise to introduce certain elements into the debate. A certain amount of that was empty rhetoric for use as argument. Will more harm be done by all the talk of Deputies in these debates than by the simple reflection that must inevitably occur to the people in poor streets, that at this particular moment they are not getting even a particular share of the unrestricted amount of foodstuffs available? I should say that the resentment that would be bred by that reflection at this particular stage is likely to breed far more angry feelings than anything heard for months. They should pay attention to the other angle. At some point they must ensure to those who have not much in the way of money that, in any event, they will be able to get, at something like a price which they can afford, a sufficiency of the goods for which they are clamouring.
All we got from the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary was a warning of the difficulties and the inescapable limitations of the situation. He is the member of the Government responsible for relief schemes. If any provision is required this year to ensure an increase for relief schemes he is the person in charge. The great part of his speech to-day was not very helpful. It holds out very little in the way of prospects for the poor. First of all, through a mistake on the part of someone, we were told that large balances were invested outside the country that might have been repatriated and put to lucrative use here, and that in any event we have limited resources. That is a changed tune. We were told that we have difficulties and inescapable limitations. The Parliamentary Secretary then went on to point out, in dealing with the international situation, that while we have enormous balances abroad which represent a promise to pay, we cannot cash them. We could demand goods, but the demand would not be met. During the whole course of the speech never was there any implication about the position of the country internally. We are guaranteeing farmers prices for various things that they are asked to produce. We are apparently running into a situation when supplies of manufactured goods are going to be scarce, and without any definite price control are going to be dear. But farmers may sit back one of these days and ask: "What is the good of these guaranteed prices? What will be open to me to buy internally, and how far will I get things at a rate that I can afford?" That may produce in the minds of farmers a feeling that guaranteed prices are a bit of a sham.
A Book of Estimates has been presented to us for a huge sum. It is more of a sham than even the Parliamentary Secretary's description of the international situation. If I tear out the pages dealing with the Army, is there anything in it to show that we are living surrounded by war conditions? If you cut out defence and the money spent on the Army, is there anything to differentiate between this Book of Estimates and the Estimates that we got in 1934, 1935, 1936, and 1937? Not a thing. There is some small amount for emergency research. The book is an entire sham. The burden of all the talk has been along the lines that there is going to be more unemployment and more distress, but the Estimates show a reduction of £400,000 on the amount previously voted for relief schemes alone. How can anyone consider that we are facing realities by dealing with a particular set of Estimates in the present crisis in that way? If there was any meaning in the Minister's words, I think it was transformed by the figures. We were told to prepare for an increase in the numbers unemployed at one time by 40,000, and at another time by 70,000. If 40,000 or 70,000 are contemplated, what provision have we made for them? Does the Book of Estimates indicate that there is going to be any tension in the business world? Is there anything to show that Ministers have foreseen difficulties with regard to suplies? If they have foreseen rocketing prices, what are they going to do to arrange that people will get supplies at moderate rates?
Is there anything to show that there will be subsidies to help other businesses or industries, or the farming community, beyond what was given in ordinary times of peace? If not, must we not come to the conclusion that these Estimates are only a first presentation and that eventually we will have a good number of supplementary estimates for heavy amounts? I do not think the people will be shocked even at that situation. As long as you present a Book of Estimates such as that, and have speeches introducing it as if it were not for the increases in the Army, the Estimates generally would be down, Ministers need not complain if they are told that hard times are ahead. So far as we can get from the extraction of information in the ordinary parliamentary way about a serious situation, there was a complete failure in three Departments of Government that should have been most active in the matter to foresee the consequences of the war and the things that would occur to the ordinary mind. I do not regard it as any argument that the situation with regard to France was so stupefying that nobody could think of meeting that circumstance. When the war started early in 1939, questions were asked and answers were given stating that as far as our interests were concerned we had reached some degree of self-sufficiency in raw materials that we required, in semi-manufactured goods, replacements, supplies and some other things. That is what was required on the industrial side.
So far as foodstuffs were concerned it was a fact that should have startled anybody, that was very clear-cut, that we relied upon big importations. With regard to such things as petrol, there was again the question of trading overseas. That was quite clearly before the minds of most people at the start of the war but in these circumstances, apparently, Ministers were content to toddle along without any attempt being made to get extra storage facilities. No attempt was made even at the start of the war when supplies were fairly plentiful and the question of transport was not such an insuperable difficulty, to lay in stores. No attempt was made even to eke out the small supplies there were in the country for which we had any storage so as to be prepared when critical times emerged. There was no attempt, apparently, to read the newspapers and no attention was paid to the losses that were occurring at sea. In these circumstances we drifted into the particular emergency in which we find ourselves at the moment. If we harp on all that has happened in the past, it is because we feel that so long as the Ministers who were at the head of the particular Departments concerned when these things happened, remain in office, there is a likelihood that the same thing will happen again.