In Committee on Finance. - Tariff on Down Quilts. Financial Motion.

I beg to move:

1. That a customs duty of an amount equal to twenty per cent. of the value of the article shall be charged, levied, and paid on all quilts of which the covers consist wholly or partly of silk or of artificial silk and which contain down or feathers and imported into Saorstát Eireann on or within five years after the 8th day of November, 1929.

2. That a customs duty of an amount equal to twenty per cent. of the value of the article shall be charged, levied, and paid on all unfilled quilt covers which consist wholly or partly of silk or of artificial silk and are imported into Saorstát Eireann on or within five years after the 8th day of November, 1929.

3. That the provisions of Section 8 of the Finance Act, 1919, shall apply to the duties mentioned in this section in like manner as if quilts of which the covers consist wholly or partly of silk or of artificial silk and which contain down or feathers and also unfilled quilt covers which consist wholly or partly of silk or of artificial silk were respectively mentioned in the Second Schedule to that Act as goods to which five-sixths of the full rate is made applicable as a preferential rate but with the substitution in the said section of the expression "Saorstát Eireann" for the expression "Great Britain and Ireland."

4. That the value of any article shall for all the purposes of this Resolution be taken to be the price which an importer would give for the article if the article were delivered, freight and insurance paid, in bond at the place of importation, and duty shall be paid on that value as fixed by the Revenue Commissioners.

5. It is hereby declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution shall have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, 1927 (No. 7 of 1927).

This Resolution is proposed in consequence of the submission of a report by the Tariff Commission. The Tariff Commission has had an application for a protective tariff on down quilts under consideration for some time. The report has been received and I hope to have it in the hands of Deputies to-morrow, or perhaps even this evening.

Along with the report upon down quilts, a report was presented on the application for a tariff on fish barrels. The application for a tariff on fish barrels was reported against by the Tariff Commission. That report, however, will also be in the hands of Deputies to-morrow, or if not to-morrow, the day after. The down quilt tariff is really a very small matter. Down quilts are manufactured only by one firm in the Saorstát, by the firm of Messrs. Booth and Fox of Cork. The down quilt in its present form was patented by this firm in 1841, and as a result of their patent the firm had practically a monopoly of the manufacture of down quilts for a considerable time, and consequently they built up a foreign market. With the lapse of their patent, however, competitors came in and gradually the foreign market was lost. The present difficulty in which the firm finds itself arises from the British Finance Act of 1925 which imposed a customs duty on silk and artificial silk and on articles made partly or wholly of these materials, with the consequence that the British market was cut off; it became unprofitable to manufacture here and export to Great Britain quilts in which silk or artificial silk was used. In consequence this firm, which owns factories in England, has recently been compelled to manufacture quilts for the English market in its English factories.

Generally, the position is that the industry is in grave danger of going out here. It can really continue only if it is given a monopoly of the Irish market. The Tariff Commission, after careful consideration, after visiting factories and carrying out all the investigation that was possible, recommended the tariff I have indicated in the Resolution. The Tariff Commission propose that the tariff shall apply only to silk-covered quilts, not to quilts which may be covered with cotton, mercerised cotton, or other materials, which, as a matter of fact, are not subject to the British tariff and in respect of the manufacture of which the firm is in the same position as it was prior to 1925.

The industry is a small one. The number of people engaged in it recently has been about 40 or 50, and the Tariff Commission is of opinion that if a tariff is imposed the maximum additional number that will be employed will be about 60. In fact, the Tariff Commission does not believe that as large a number as 60 will be employed; that is the maximum figure, but the Tariff Commission does not believe that it will be reached. Owing to the lack of statistics the Tariff Commission has found it difficult to come to a conclusion as to what is the annual value of the import of the goods which are now to be taxed. It is, possibly, somewhere between £15,000 and £20,000.

As I have said, this is an old-established firm which was able to manufacture efficiently and to maintain an export trade until that export trade was cut off by the tariff of another country. The Tariff Commission is satisfied that it will be possible to manufacture goods efficiently here and to sell them as cheaply as they are being sold, and that, broadly speaking, no increase will fall on the consumer as a result of the tariff. It is not anticipated that any revenue will be collected on account of the tariff, because it is believed that this 20 per cent. will give this particular firm a monopoly of the market here and will enable them to overcome, by giving them the output which is necessary, the difficulties under which they have been labouring up to the present.

The opposition to the tariff came from one firm, the Cork firm of Messrs. Nolan and Sons, which is engaged in the extraction of down from feathers. I will read an extract from the report so far as it affects the opposition to the tariff. The opponent firm stated that:—

As purchasers of approximately one-half of the poulterers' goose feathers produced in the Saorstát, they believed that the presence of their factory in Cork helped to keep prices at a profitable level for producers, especially as they were able to offer better prices than dealers. Messrs. Nolan's witness instanced disadvantages which his firm already suffered in comparison with their English competitors. He opposed the imposition of a tariff on down quilts mainly on the ground that it would have an adverse effect on their trade.

The Tariff Commissioners say:—

We do not think it advisable to set out in detail their contention, which, in our opinion, is not likely to be borne out to the extent anticipated by Messrs. Nolan. We have, however, given full consideration to the objections which they have offered to the proposed tariff, and have had due regard to the fact that they employ a greater number of persons in the preparation and export of down and feathers than the Cork factory of Messrs. Booth and Fox employs in the preparation of down and the manufacture of quilts.

I do not think that there is any other matter I need mention at present. Deputies will have the report in their hands before the Report Stage of the Resolution is taken. I have nothing further to say, except to repeat that this is a small matter, but that the industry is an old-established one, which is in danger of disappearing, not through any fault of those who are conducting it, but because of the imposition of a tariff outside. It can be saved, in the opinion of the Commission, without expense to the consumer, and it seems desirable that it should be so saved.

It is satisfactory to know that at any rate the Tariff Commission has not altogether ceased its labours, and that the applications for protective duties on down quilts and fish barrels, which were made in 1926, have at long last been reported on. In connection with the recommendation with respect to the application concerning down quilts, I understand from the Minister that it is intended to impose a duty only upon quilts manufactured out of silk or artificial silk. The application was, of course, for a protective duty on all down quilts, no matter what covering material was used. As far as I have been able to follow what the Minister said, the reason why it was decided to impose a customs duty upon down quilts made out of silk or artificial silk was because a duty upon such goods is in operation in Great Britain, and the reason why it was decided not to impose a duty upon other classes of quilts was because no such duty was in operation in Great Britain. Apparently the Tariff Commission were merely anxious to bring the customs laws of this country into conformity with the customs laws prevailing in England. It seems to be an extraordinary reason to give for the rejection of that part of the application which concerned down quilts made out of materials other than silk or artificial silk. It is not possible, of course, to discuss this matter fully now, as we have not yet seen the report. We will have an opportunity, when this motion again comes forward on the Report Stage, to go more fully into the reasons given for the apparently extraordinary decision of the Tariff Commission.

I trust that the House will also be given an opportunity of discussing the report upon the application for a protective duty upon fish barrels, which will not come before the House in the ordinary way, as no recommendation has been made concerning it. If some time could be set aside for a discussion of the report, it may be found that the decision of the Tariff Commission in that connection is apparently just as extraordinary as the decision in the case of down quilts and in the numerous other matters that came before it.

As this matter will be discussed at a later date when we have had an opportunity of studying the report, there is no necessity to take up the time of the House at this stage, but I would like to have some information from the Minister on the general subject matter of tariffs which was recently discussed, I understand, by our representatives at Geneva. A proposal was put forward there that nothing should be done in the way of imposing further tariffs for a period of two years. I do not know whether or not our representatives were signatories to that draft arrangement at Geneva. Possibly the Minister could give us a little information on the subject.

I welcome this resolution because I believe it has not come one moment too soon. The firm to which the Minister referred, Messrs. Booth and Fox, have built up a very large industry, and by good administration and trade organisation have been enabled to build up a remarkably good export trade. Owing, as the Minister stated, to a change in the fiscal policy of another country it has been found necessary to introduce the motion, and I am glad that the Tariff Commission in this case, at least, have shown a good deal of common sense in applying this tariff. As a matter of fact I know that were it not that there was a belief, and a well-founded belief, that the Tariff Commission would have acted as they have acted, this firm would have to close its doors in Cork city, and throw on the unemployment market possibly sixty or eighty persons. Of course there is a fly in the ointment. I regret with Deputy Lemass that the Tariff Commission have not seen fit to apply this tariff to down quilts, the covering of which should not be confined to silk or artificial silk, and that they should have included in the impost other fabrics. So far as it goes, at any rate, I am glad to learn that it will mean that this firm which, as I have already indicated, has built up an export trade will not have to close its doors.

The Minister mentioned that as far as the application for a tariff on fish barrels was concerned it had been turned down by the Tariff Commission. Deputy Lemass asked the Minister to agree to set aside some time later on in order to discuss this decision regarding fish barrels. Personally I believe the announcement the Minister has made in regard to the decision of the Tariff Commission not to put a tariff on fish barrels will be very very good news indeed for the Chambers of Commerce in Belfast and Derry, and to the manufacturers of fish barrels in those districts. I also believe that the announcement will more or less sound the death-knell of the aspirations of the workers in the congested areas who hoped to get employment at such work. I would like to know if the Minister will agree to the suggestion put forward by Deputy Lemass, that the House should get an opportunity of discussing the decision with regard to fish barrels.

It seems reasonable to inquire why, if the tariff on down quilts is intended to be prohibitive it was fixed so low as 20 per cent. A 20 per cent. tax as tariffs go is a rather low figure and if the intention was to give a monopoly to the firm in Cork it seems rather curious that it should not be, say, 33? per cent., so as to ensure that the desideratum would be achieved.

I did not quite understand Deputy Good's reference to an agreement at Geneva, but I can tell him that the attitude the representatives of the Saorstát took up in any discussions with regard to tariffs was that this country was not over-tariffed, that it was a country which was industrially undeveloped, and that it must stand out against any proposal in regard to a tariff holiday, or to the lowering of tariffs which would hinder it in making full use of the tariff weapon for the development of its industries. I presume the question as to why other quilts and silk-covered quilts have not been included can be more satisfactorily discussed on the next stage. I will just point out now that the firm is still in the same position to sell cotton covered quilts in its old markets. It is now suffering from the fact that its output of silk quilts, and consequently its general output, has been reduced. If this tariff gives it a large output, by enabling it to supply silk quilts to the Saorstát, there is no reason why it should not continue to manufacture the other types of quilts satisfactorily without a tariff.

With regard to fish barrels, when Deputies have seen the report it will be open to any Deputy to put down a motion and have the question discussed.

The applicant firm in the case of down quilts applied for a tariff of only twenty per cent. That of course would not preclude the Tariff Commission from recommending a higher tariff, but, naturally, they would only do so if there were extremely strong reasons, and I presume they were satisfied, as the applicant firm was satisfied, that a 20 per cent. margin would be sufficient.

Arising out of Deputy Good's suggestion can the Minister inform us if our representatives at Geneva suggested to other nations the Tariff Commission method of abolishing tariffs?

Question put and agreed to.
Report Stage ordered for November 14th, 1929.