I move amendment No. 1:
After sub-section (2) to insert a new sub-section as follows:—
The Minister may, whenever and so often as he thinks fit, request the Commission to report, as respects any class or kind of goods, on the extent (if any) to which the cost of economical and efficient production is higher than in the United Kingdom and to make recommendations as to the steps necessary to secure for producers and manufacturers full opportunity of reasonable competition in the sale of such goods to Great Britain.
I thought that somebody was going to raise this matter on the previous sub-section. My object in putting down this amendment was to raise a point which I was not sure I could raise, strictly speaking, within the Bill itself unless I put down an amendment. I have felt for some time that, if we were going to get a reduction of prices and a greater variety from our manufacturers, it was of the utmost importance that they, in the course of a reasonable time, should develop some export trade, and that nothing would be better for the majority of our manufacturers—particularly those who have grown up in the last four or five years—than if they could get into a market, such as, let us say, Great Britain, and sell some of their products. Now, assuming that, as I maintain is the case in regard to a very large percentage of Irish manufactured products, the quality is good and that they have reached a reasonable standard of proficiency, the only thing that prevents that export is the price. In some cases, that price may be due to the manufacturer's own fault; in other cases, it may be due to circumstances which are immediately or substantially beyond his control, and it seems to me that, if you are going to have an enquiry by the Prices Commission and a review of existing tariffs, if that review is to be on the basis set out in Article 8 of the Agreement, with which we are all familiar and which I need not read out now, the Prices Commission, of necessity, under the terms of Article 8, will have to investigate to some extent the causes for increased cost of production here and make allowances for such of those as are consistent with efficient production. I think that is the phrase used.
The Minister may say that he has the powers in the Bill to get this report. If so I am satisfied. It seems to me desirable that in this report, whether it is made public or not, the Minister should have information in the case of those industries sent directly to him as to what the Prices Commission, which is an impartial body, considers are the differences in the cost of production here as against Great Britain. In other words, what would have to be made up to put the Irish manufacturer in the same position of "reasonable competition" in Great Britain which it is intended, except in the case of new industries, to provide for the British manufacturer here. I think if that were ascertained it might be found wise policy, at any rate for a limited period, for the Government to consider whether some assistance should be given to make up that difference. There are quite a number of ways in which that assistance might be given, whether by means of licences, a reduction of certain taxes or certain allowances or even a bounty if that were found desirable, though I am not in favour of an ordinary export bounty. If that were done it could only be done within the spirit and terms of the Agreement, and only to such extent as would enable the Irish manufacturer to compete on even terms. There could be no such question as getting up an export trade by paying for it out of the pockets of the people here.
If this Agreement should, following an examination by the Prices Commission, result, as I think it must do if it is going to have any effect at all from the British point of view, in an increase of the imports of British manufactured goods, it is not at all impossible that at the lower duty the actual revenue from this may be higher. My suggestion is that the Government might carefully watch that situation, and might ear-mark such increased duty as they may receive on these particular commodities, and use that sum for the assistance of the commodities that obtain some proportion of an export trade. It is quite common to find that everybody who complains here of the cost of production begins by speaking of wages. I think that, in some cases, the wages paid here are proportionately higher when compared with Great Britain, but I doubt if any Irish manufacturer wants to get wages down to the absolute rock bottom. There are quite a number of other things besides wages. Paper, for instance, is very much higher, and a number of other things necessary for an export trade.
I do not know the position in Great Britain, but I do know that in the case of manufacturers here who are competing directly with Northern Ireland, they are faced by the fact that the factories in Northern Ireland are derated. I know quite well that our Minister for Finance would be horrified if he heard that I intended to start a campaign, even if I were able to do it, for the derating of factories. I suggest that it might be possible to provide an allowance to meet that to the extent to which there was export. I suggest that if this Agreement is to be made work, one way of giving wise and sane protection to our industries would be to help them to get some export trade. It would be good for them also in this way, that if with a concession equal to the proper difference in the cost of efficient production they were not able to build up an export trade, then I am afraid they would have to face the fact that there was something wrong elsewhere, and to that extent it would be good for the community.
If the Minister thinks that he has this power already, then what I am suggesting is that in the case of industries in which there was a hope of building up an export trade, he should ask for this additional information from the Prices Commission when they are reviewing the tariffs which, in view of the terms of Article 8, means reviewing the industry as a whole. It is with a view to drawing attention to that as a possibility that I put down the amendment. If the Minister thinks it is not necessary, then I am not going to press it. I would not, of course, have put down an amendment to any Bill which was part and parcel of the Agreement.