Those of us who over the years have been accustomed to hearing the Minister for Industry and Commerce introducing his Estimate here and speaking on it must have been struck this year by the change in his tone, in his demeanour and in his outlook. Positive assertions were gone and the whole tenor of the Minister's speech was one of apology for the story he had to tell. It is, indeed, a change to have Deputy Lemass as Minister for Industry and Commerce coming in here and speaking in a halting and apologetic fashion. So well he might.
No one will suggest for one moment that all the troubles with which we are faced at the present moment are due to the present Government, but everyone who understands and appreciates the position as regards industry and commerce knows very well—I am quite certain the Minister knows it—that that serious position has arisen because of the exaggeration of world tendencies in relation to our country by the Government. More than 12 months ago, prior to the general election of 1951, this particular line started, and it is at the root of all the difficulties with which we are now faced.
The Government on taking office immediately adopted a line that bore no relation to facts, and they adopted that line for purely political purposes. The effect of that has been not merely to increase throughout the country what has been euphemistically called purchaser resistance, but to smash any possible hope of an industrial revival arising out of the slump that has come upon industry and business generally. Wherever one goes business people tell the same story. Business is at a standstill because of the policy of the Government, a Government which has exaggerated world tendencies out of all proportion so far as this country is concerned.
The part the present Minister has played has not been anything like so damaging as the part played by his colleague, the Minister for Finance. We shall be dealing with that on the Estimate for his Department in a few days. Deputy Lemass, Minister for Industry and Commerce, has failed utterly in his responsibilities, and the people in the business world who for years regarded him as their idol, have now discovered that he has feet of clay so far as his political handling of his Department is concerned. The Minister must have known 12 months ago that the depression was being accentuated by the unnecessary scare created by his colleague, the Minister for Finance. The officers of his Department must have told him that. He must have known that a trade recession was then beginning, and any attempt to create a scare for purely political purposes was bound in the long run to turn that recession into a slump.
It is very easy to start a trend like that, and it is very easy to exaggerate the trend. It is almost impossible to stop the trend when it has been started. I believe the Minister now appreciates the effect of the statements made at that time by the Minister for Finance. I believe he is anxious to stop the trend, but cannot stop it.
All over the country the position is serious, particularly in relation to unemployment. In Newbridge to-day there are 150 employed in a factory that 12 months ago employed 350 people. Those who are employed are daily in fear of their employment coming to an end. Nobody can suggest that that is due to mismanagement or bad handling of the situation by the owners. The factory in question is controlled by a supporter of the Minister's, and I say without fear of contradiction that he is one of the finest industrialists we have in this country. He takes every advantage of all the opportunities that offer. If the industry is not progressing, it is certainly not his fault. The same situation is causing grave uneasiness all over the county. The mills in Celbridge are closed. Deputy Norton asked recently for particulars of the number on the unemployment register, and the figures he got show an alarming increase as compared with last year. Apart from the number unemployed, all over the country there are people working on short time. We can only end the present grave situation by giving the people new hope, by encouraging them in the belief that we will get out of the trade recession and out of the depression. The way to do that is not the way adopted by Deputy Briscoe last Friday when he tried to suggest that prices would fall still further. The more the people are told prices will fall the stronger consumer resistance will be and the less purchases will be made. The more the people hold back, the greater will be our unemployment.
Quite apart from our internal marketing position, there will be a difficulty in regard to our exports. No matter what one would like to think, this is a small country, and in regard to many lines of modern industrial products we can consume all the products that any particular factory may make within a very short space of time. If there is to be full-time work, full-time production for these factories, we must, in addition to ensuring that we have the home market, ensure that there is an export market.
The Minister, in introducing this Estimate, referred to the trade agreements which had been made during the year. I noticed particularly that he did not refer to any agreement with Great Britain. When the Minister was on this side of the House, he never lost any opportunity of saying that the 1948 agreement was a very bad one and should be scrapped at the first available opportunity. The Minister should remember that it was the 1948 agreement which got us out of some of the straitjackets into which we had been put by him under the 1938 agreement with regard to exports of industrial products. The Minister is in the situation that, if he had wished, from the 1st April last he could have scrapped that agreement. If his criticism when on this side of the House was well-founded, he has the opportunity now of delivering the goods, so to speak, and producing the answer which he suggested when he was in opposition should be produced.
We have to face up to the general difficulty that, so far as modern industry is concerned, with its specialisation, if we are to have an industrial plant going whole-time for the 52 weeks of the year we will have to get for a lot of goods a market for more than can be consumed at home. It is because that is so absolutely obvious and essential that we should welcome the establishment of Coras Trachtala, the successor of the Dollar Exports Committee set up in June 1950 and in respect of which the plans were then made. But we want it not merely for dollar exports, but for exports to other countries.
The Minister made reference in his opening statement to a guarantee system. I hope that that reference was intended to mean that the scheme which was in its embryo stage with the Dollar Exports Committee for providing some system by virtue of which there would be a central organisation to collect for Irish manufacturers in foreign countries payment for the goods exported, is to be a reality. It is difficult for any small industrialist here to make suitable arrangements to ensure that he cannot be made the plaything of a foreign trader to whom he has exported goods unless there is some central organisation to look after all the exports in that country.
I do not want to refer in any identifiable way to any case that is in any way sub judice at the moment. The Minister, however, will know the case to which I am referring. If there was a body such as the company which is now being set up to see not merely to payment against the bills of lading as the banks do, but in addition to that to see that there could not be any default in credit and that there would be proper acceptance of the goods at the other end in a fit state after the voyage, then you would not have that action which, regardless of the result of it so far as the parties are concerned, certainly has done and will do considerable damage to Irish exports and Irish manufacture as a whole.
The position, so far as trade throughout the country is concerned, is one that must cause considerable apprehension to everybody. Even at this stage, so far as our internal position is concerned, I believe it could be remedied to a substantial degree if the Government would get the banks to give an indication that they are going to extend credit; if the Government were to give an indication that they now realise it was untrue to say that the ordinary people were living beyond their means, because it was that scare headline by colleagues of the Minister's which went from one end of the country to another that got the people to cease purchasing. As soon as they cease purchasing, then obviously production will pile up, and we shall have a cycle, from which it will be very difficult to extricate ourselves.
To-day we received from the Statistics Department certain information showing that the views expressed on this side of the House with regard to trade over the past 12 months were correct views. Last year we were urged every time any of the present Ministers spoke as Deputies or any other Deputy of the Fianna Fáil Party spoke to remember that we were on the immediate brink of a European and probably a world war, and that it was essential that we should get all the goods we could at the earliest possible time. In these circumstances, and in the general wave which there was throughout the country, it was inevitable that, last year, there would be an entirely unusual import figure and a scale of imports which was not likely to be repeated in any other circumstances to the same degree. Time and time again we said that that was inevitable and that the picture which would be seen when we came into the year 1952 would be a very different picture.
To-day we get from the statistics department a sheet which shows us that the adverse balance of trade is £24,000,000 less than it was a year ago. Is not that what was bound to happen when the scare about war, which was largely contributed to by Ministers, had passed for the moment? If the Minister had taken heed of the advice offered to him at the time and had not tried to make mere Party capital out of the situation, we would not have had much of the damage and the hardship which have arisen during the past six or seven months particularly.
It is not merely the position as it is up to the moment which worries me. Unless there is a new surge of hope created throughout the country—and the Government must lead in that surge—I am afraid that during the coming winter we shall have unemployed on a scale which we have never seen before.
I am afraid that unless the people get a lead from the Government, we shall see a picture in the autumn and the winter of this year which frightens anybody who has any contact with the business community. I am satisfied that was the basis behind the halting speech of the Minister in opening the Estimate because he realised that these difficulties were there. They can be surmounted but they can be surmounted only if the Minister's colleagues and the Minister himself— though I admit to a lesser degree— stop playing Party politics and make sure that the people of the country get a lead towards securing the business prosperity that they want and which they can secure if they are only given the chance and the opportunity, if only the restrictions are removed that have been unnecessarily imposed upon them by the banks, to some degree I believe, at the instigation of the Central Bank and in the case of the Central Bank itself at the instigation of the Government.
Turning from the general position, I want to say a few words about individual features. I was surprised that the Minister in his opening statement —though I admit quite frankly that if the Minister were to touch on every aspect of his Department he would have kept us a great deal longer—did not give any indication or forecast in regard to the volume of industrial production, of industrial employment, or in regard to the prospects of getting away from short-time to full-time employment.
In so far as I can remember, the only reference he made at all to the matter was to the fact that there were now 220,000 people in industrial employment, that is as against 206,000 in 1949 and 218,000 at the end of 1950. I do not know how many there were in the middle of 1951 but I think the Minister himself realises that the figure of 220,000 does not represent the increase that one would have hoped or wished for when you take into account the rate of increase in the earlier years. Unfortunately the position is, quite frankly, that the year through which we have just passed has been a year of recession or turning back instead of a year of progress.
I do not know whether the view that the Minister holds and to which he gave expression on 21st March last is the Government view, or whether the view which the Taoiseach expressed on 22nd April is the correct interpretation of the Government's view. When speaking on 21st March, as reported in Volume 130, column 246, the Minister for Industry and Commerce made it quite clear that he regarded the danger of inflation as being entirely over, and that the danger was now one of deflation. I think he was right.