A large portion of the speeches of some Senators have been devoted to sugar beet, a subject which is not once mentioned in the Finance Bill. I think it might reasonably and suitably have been withheld from the Second Reading of the Bill. In my opinion one of the most favourable aspects of the situation surrounding this Bill is the fact that the Minister is to-day, for the first time, able to estimate pretty closely our liability for war damage. That was a nightmare of a very uncertain kind which hung over us when the previous Finance Bill was being discussed. I think the fact that he is able to estimate what our liability is should have a very settling effect on the country generally, and should strengthen our borrowing powers where they are necessary.
The Budget, as a whole, is a very cleverly adjusted document. There is something for everybody, but some people get more than others, and some have taken from them in one way what is given in another. The Minister, on the whole, is to be congratulated upon the skill with which he manipulated the small amount of money which he had to play with. I approve, and I previously advocated, the policy of meeting at this stage non-recurrent expenditure by borrowing. This generation has made a big sacrifice in blood and treasure, and it is only fair to pass on to posterity some at least of our financial burdens. I do not know that in that way we are unfair to posterity. I think it was a famous Irishman who wanted to know what posterity had done for us. I wonder if the Minister is not too optimistic in assuming that he could reduce the cost of the Army to two-thirds, or, in other words, from very slightly over three millions to two millions. I fancy he will have to alter the whole framework of the present Army machinery if he is to effect the considerable reduction which he hopes to be able to do.
We all hope that the compensation for war damage will be non-recurrent. I think in this respect that those who have got awards under the different measures dealing with compensation for damages are not treating the nation fairly by leaving these ruins untouched for such a long time. We have them in Dublin as a standing rebuke to the enterprise of those who have been awarded money for rebuilding. They stand as ghastly reminders of a period which every good citizen would fain forget, but they will be looked on by visitors as an indication of a lack of confidence in those concerned in the stability of the State, but, notwithstanding the difficulties in the way, I think a greater effort might have been made to start the rebuilding of this ruined property. In the present state of our finances, the preparation of the Budget is very largely a matter of balancing, by giving relief here and putting additional burdens there, and the skill, prudence, and statesmanship with which that balancing is effected will probably decide in a very material way the industrial and economic future of the country. I hope that the reduction in income tax will effect some at least of the great blessings which its advocates have foretold. The Cork ambition has not been realised, but I think that as much of it has been realised as might reasonably have been hoped.
The remission of the tax on tea, and the reduction of that on sugar is, undoubtedly, very welcome to the very needy though, unfortunately, very numerous section of the population, but the benefit which that section will obtain from the remission and reduction of these duties will be largely counter-balanced, Senator Sir Nugent Everard notwithstanding, by the increased price of boots and shoes, and of articles of personal clothing which are imported. The fact remains, from statistics, that the imports of these articles is as great as they have previously been. Unless we are to assume that the manufacturers or traders are bearing the impost, we must assume that the tax is passed on to the consumer. It is impossible to get rid of these imports for the moment, because our boot manufacturers are quite unable to meet the demands of the nation in respect of boots. Even if they could meet it in quantity, they certainly are not meeting it in quality, because the variety of Irish boots is very restricted. They do not give the same number of fittings or the same variety of boots and shoes as those which are turned out by more enterprising firms across the water. They must become more enterprising in this respect before they can compete with the foreigner, no matter what tariff wall is set up.
I wonder will the Irish manufacturers take shelter under this tariff wall to build up industry, or are they always going to play the part of lame ducks requiring assistance which their competitors elsewhere can do without because of their greater ability as business men, and their foresight in respect of the requirements of the people? The answer to this question will largely depend on the success or otherwise of the experiment of a protection policy on which the Government has embarked. The tax on furniture is almost unprecedented. The manufacturers, as I understand, asked for 25 per cent., but the Government went one better and put on a tax of 33? per cent. To the shortage of houses is added the grave inconvenience of more expensive furniture, more expensive blankets, and other things, so that people who intend to get married in the near future have their already serious difficulties increased to a very considerable extent.
In this respect also the Irish manufacturer of furniture will have to cater more for the section of people who like nice articles, as well as those which will last for a long time. I think they have a good deal of leeway to make up in this respect. Unless they meet the requirements of modern civilisation these taxes will be merely revenue producing taxes. They must inevitably increase the cost of living, and they will not increase the amount of employment to be given to any great extent unless the manufacturers rise to the occasion. The serious aspect is that any Government in the future which proposes to alter this policy will be met with a threat of wholesale unemployment, and will be told that if they take off these taxes the workers will be thrown on the unemployment market. That is one reason why the greatest possible consideration should have been given to the policy before it was embarked on to any great extent. I sincerely hope it will be a success, but I fear that our own manufacturers will be the people who can make it a success or otherwise, and, so far, they have held out no hope that they are going to rise to the occasion.
There is, for instance, the fact that blouses for women have been taxed. I do not know any manufacturer in the Free State who makes blouses, though there may be to a limited extent. I do not see much force in protecting an industry that is not provided for already in this country. One almost inevitable effect of extended tariffs is the restricting and hampering of the free flow of trade. No matter how protectionist we may be, we cannot hope to have a flow of trade in one direction, and we cannot export everything and import nothing. That is an economic and financial impossibility. Anything that can be done to remove the present restrictions in respect of the Customs difficulties at the ports should be done as soon as possible. The present delays at the ports, because of these Customs tariffs, which make it necessary to examine free entry goods as well as dutiable goods, are causing considerable inconvenience and expense. They are causing considerable inconvenience to trade, to the railways, and to the State.
The whole of these duties is passed on ultimately to the consumer in one form or another. I believe that a more expeditious method could be made, and I would venture to make a tentative suggestion to the Minister in this respect. Under the present conditions, the original invoices of all goods have to be sent with the consignment. A cargo of goods, for instance, comes in in the evening at the North Wall. The railway company's clerks who are employed for this purpose, start work at 11 p.m., and from the ship's manifest they make out a list of the dutiable goods. These are finished by 7 o'clock in the morning, but the office at which the customs officials do their work is not open until 10 o'clock and nothing can be done until then. These statements made out by the clerks at the ship's side have to be sent to the Custom House for examination and for proof. That takes some time, and the consignee, in the interior or in Dublin, has then to be written to for the customs charges. If the consignee is in the interior, the delay is greater. That means another three or four days' delay. There may be a delay in post. The consignee may not be in a hurry to get a postal order or draw a cheque, and a further delay takes place. When the return money is received, a certain amount of book-keeping entries have to be made, the money has to be paid and a receipt obtained at the Custom House. Eventually the document goes back to the ship's side, and certain other formalities are gone through before the goods are handed over to the railway company for conveyance to the interior. One day's delay would be saved if, instead of staying in their offices, the customs clerks went to the ship's side and dealt with the statement prepared by the shipping clerks. Delay would also be saved if, instead of writing to the consignee for the charges, the Government would ask the railway companies or the carriers, whoever they may be, to collect the tax on delivery of the goods, direct from the consignee. As had already been stated, machinery is in operation in regard to every parcel or consignment of goods coming into the Free State which has to bear a customs stamp of 6d., and a penny which is put on by the railway companies to cover the cost of clerical work. The railway company have to collect this from the consignee. Why not get them to collect the whole charges in the same way as they collect the amount in regard to parcels? Just imagine the amount of delay and chaos there would be if a person had to be written to by the Post Office authorities intimating that there was 6d. due on a parcel coming through the post and that when the money was paid at the post office, the parcel would be delivered. The obvious way to remedy it would be to get the postmen to collect the charges on delivery. I suggest in a tentative way that that practice might get a trial in regard to the general customs charges. I suggest that it might be tried, first, in respect of small parcels of drapery and other goods which usually go by passenger train. The delay is all the more irritating because the parcels are small and they involve an amount of trouble in dealing with them.
Personal clothing and boots impose a large amount of extra work on the Customs Department. They are not on the same basis as tea, sugar and tobacco, because of the great number of firms involved, tea exporters from across Channel very often make deposits from which are deducted the Customs charges. The goods come in in large consignments to Dublin, and are redistributed throughout the country. The same is not true of the manufacturers of personal clothing, boots, and soforth. I think if this method were given a trial it would counter to a large extent a great number of complaints, would obviate a tremendous amount of delay, and would at all events, ease the hampering of trade which is very depressed. The railway companies are suffering as a result, and a good deal of trade is not going on because of the irritation caused by delay, and on account of the formality and red tape which have inevitably to be completed here, as is the case with most Customs barriers in other countries.
On account of the small amount of our trade we should not put on restrictions which could be dealt with in another way. I suggest that the Minister would give the matter some consideration and enter into communication, if necessary, with the railway companies to see if my suggestion could be carried out. I was speaking to a responsible railway official a few days ago, and I asked him if this suggestion was possible to be carried out, and he said it was quite possible, and it might be welcomed by the companies.