That a sum not exceeding £4,985,880 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, 1953, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, including certain Services administered by that Office, and for payment of certain Subsidies and sundry Grants-in-Aid.
The House is, I think, aware that the Estimate which it is being asked to discuss is the revised Estimate recently circulated. A revision of the Estimate was necessary consequential on changes in the amount required for the food subsidies administered by the Department of Industry and Commerce as announced in the Budget statement. Instead of an increase of approximately £2,000,000 in subsidy cost, which the original Estimate envisaged, the revised Estimate assumes a reduction of almost a similar amount. The cost of subsidies in this year will be £7,500,000 instead of the originally estimated £11,500,000.
The total amount required for the service of the Department in the year shows a reduction of approximately £4,000,000 on last year. Leaving out of account the minor changes shown under some of the sub-heads, that reduction in the Estimate is due to five main changes. First, the lower cost of food subsidies accounts for £2,000,000, and, secondly, there is the disappearance of the fuel subsidy from the Estimate which amounted last year to £3,000,000. Against those reductions, totalling £5,000,000, there is an increased provision for housing grants to Bord na Móna amounting to £300,000, and a reversion to the original arrangement for the payment of grants to the Electricity Supply Board for rural electrification, which adds £450,000, and the provision of £250,000 to An Fóras Tionscal.
It is the practice of the Minister for Industry and Commerce when introducing this annual Estimate to review the developments which occurred during the previous financial year affecting industry or trade, or any of the services administered by the Department of Industry and Commerce. In order to avoid speaking at inordinate length, it is necessary to confine the review to matters of major interest or matters upon which Deputies have displayed curiosity during the year.
One of the primary functions of the Department of Industry and Commerce is the stimulation of industrial development. I think it is true to say that notwithstanding the difficulties that prevailed during the year, the progress which was made is satisfactory. The circumstances of the year were not favourable to a rapid expansion of industry. There developed throughout the whole world a trade recession which led to a very marked contraction of production in various industries in all countries. Over and above that world-wide situation and its effects upon our position here, we had some difficulties peculiar to ourselves. The delay which had been experienced previously in securing delivery of new plant and equipment still persisted.
In some directions our progress was held up by a scarcity of raw materials and perhaps even more particularly by some rather violent fluctuations in the cost of materials. In view of these difficulties which, as I have said, affected the industrial position in other countries as well as here, it is pleasing to record that nevertheless some progress was made.
During the course of the past 12 months, 51 new projects which have been in the development stage reached the production stage and a number of existing concerns went into new lines or extended their capacity. Perhaps the most significant development in that connection was represented by the arrangements made for the extension of the cement factories and the sugar factories so as to bring their potential capacities up to the levels at which they will be capable of meeting the whole requirements of the country.
Notwithstanding the circumstances to which I have referred, I am glad to be able to say that there is quite a surprisingly large number of proposals for new industries under examination in my Department. Not all of these proposals will prove on examination to be sound. Some of them may not even be proceeded with by those who have promoted them but I think it is certain that some of them will result in the establishment of new factories. One might have expected, in the rather difficult conditions prevailing, that there would be a falling-off in the number of new proposals reaching the Department. The fact that that is not the case is, I think, evidence of the scope that still exists here for worthwhile industrial development.
The estimate of the number of people engaged in industrial employment in the past year is 220,000 and, making allowance for short-time work which now prevails in some industries, that number has not fallen significantly since. There are, as the House is aware, exceptional temporary difficulties affecting some industries to which I shall refer later but, offsetting these difficulties and their effects upon the total employment in industrial occupations, there have been developments in other directions.
The House, I think, will be anxious to ascertain to what extent the aims of the Undeveloped Areas Act may be realised, the extent to which industrial expansion may extend into the undeveloped areas to which that Act relates as well as other parts of the country. The body which was set up to administer that Act, An Fóras Tionscal, was given autonomous status. It is not subject to ministerial control in any way. I think it is most desirable that that position should be maintained. The reason why the Act was framed in that way and why the board was set up in that independent position was explained when the Bill was under discussion here. I have had to resist efforts made by Deputies, by way of parliamentary question, to find out what was happening in regard to applications under consideration by the board. In my view, it is very important that decisions taken by An Fóras Tionscal upon individual applications made to it by people seeking assistance under the Act for industrial projects in the undeveloped areas should not be influenced, or should not appear to be capable of being influenced, by political pressure or agitation of any kind.
I feel certain that the calm judgment which the board will bring to the consideration of these proposals, if they are left undisturbed in the way the Act proposes will yield far more effective results than anything we might hope to secure by pressure of the kind to which I have referred. The House, however, is aware that the Act is, in large measure, an experiment. Most Deputies will be as interested as I am in ascertaining how the experiment is working or looks like working. We all want to know whether or not it will succeed in securing a significant increase in industrial activity in the western part of the country. I may say that the strongest ground for optimism that the Act will succeed arises from the interest which is displayed in the possibility of securing assistance under that Act by people approaching the Department of Industry and Commerce with proposals for new industrial developments which, in the ordinary way, they would propose to locate in the Eastern part of the country and who are prepared to reconsider the position anew on having brought to their attention the policy of the Government and the provisions of that Act. In quite a number of cases, projects which were under discussion in the Department in the ordinary way developed in the form of proposals to An Fóras Tionscal—proposals which contemplated development in the undeveloped areas. There is, however, another feature which is not quite so satisfactory.
I understand from Fóras Tionscal that they have received a very large number of applications which appear to reveal widespread misunderstanding of the purposes of the Act. I am told that approximately 400 applications for aid under the terms of the Act have been received of which more than half could not be considered by Fóras Tionscal because they relate either to the purchase of agricultural machinery, the building of agricultural premises, the development of some commercial enterprise or projects which could not possibly be described as being of an industrial character at all. There appears to be in some of these counties an impression that the purpose of Fóras Tionscal is to give out grants for any useful purpose. That, of course, is not so, as the House is well aware.
The aim of Fóras Tionscal is to assist worthwhile industrial projects, and it is limited, in accordance with the instructions they were given, to giving aid only where there is evidence that there is some commercial disadvantage in the choice of a western location. It is clear that progress in industrial development in the West is likely to be fairly slow. It takes time to prepare proposals for any worthwhile industrial project, to get these proposals considered by an official organisation, approved of and construction work started.