I move: "That the Dáil agree with the Committee in its Report."
Tariff on Down Quilts. - Financial Motion: Report Stage.
The application which was considered by the Tariff Commission was for a duty of twenty per cent. upon quilts containing down or an admixture of down and was subsequently extended to include quilts containing mixed down and feathers or feathers only. We note from the report that the application was referred to the Commission on February 26th, 1927; the detailed case was lodged on 17th October, 1927, the fee was paid on November 30th, 1927; the public announcement of the application was made on the 16th December, 1927; and the statement of the opponents to the application was lodged on December 16th, 1928. In other words, all the preliminary steps in relation to this unimportant application were completed by the first month of last year, but the Tariff Commission were not in a position to submit their report and recommendations until last week. If there had been anything of a complicated nature in the application it might be possible to understand the delay, but the fact that the only complex thing in relation to the application is the actual report of the Commission seems to us to show that the delay was altogether unreasonable. We have, however, got the recommendations and we find that instead of dealing with the application which was submitted to them they recommend a duty of twenty per cent., subject to imperial preference rates, upon down quilts covered with silk or artificial silk, and they recommend further that that duty should only apply for a period of five years.
When I was reading this report I tried very hard to get at the mentality of the Tariff Commission behind it but I did not succeed. If we ask ourselves the question why this tariff should be granted at all, we will surely answer that the purpose of it should be to increase the production of down quilts in the Twenty-Six Counties and, consequently, to increase the amount of employment given in their manufacture. I cannot see what other reason should be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not the tariff should be imposed, but if that is the consideration which is to be taken into account it is quite obvious that the tariff should apply to all quilts manufactured from down or any admixture of down and feathers, irrespective of the class of material used to cover them. It is possible that the Tariff Commission, and the Executive Council who acted on their recommendation, had some consideration in mind other than the increased production of those articles and the increased employment given in their manufacture. There is particular stress laid in the report upon the fact that a duty on articles manufactured from silk or artificial silk exists in Britain and that that interfered with the export trade of the Cork factory in those articles.
The impression is conveyed, although there is no definite statement to support it, that this tariff is imposed as some form of retaliation for the difficulties placed in the way of this factory in exporting their goods to Britain. The Commission state that the difficulties of the factory were due to the British duty, but they do not seem to indicate how these difficulties are going to be removed by the adoption of their recommendation. The British duties, presumably, will still remain in operation and the giving of a monopoly to the factory for silk-covered quilts in the Free State area will not recompense them, I think, for the loss of their export trade nor provide a market in the Free
State sufficiently large to keep the factory going if the tariff is to be confined exclusively to the manufacture of quilts of that class. The Commission made reference to the fact that the decline in the productivity of the Cork factory was largely due to the action of the firm in transferring part of their business to a new factory which they established in England, but they admit that their decision to do that may have been prudent from a business point of view. Surely the object of the Tariff Commission should have been to make it equally prudent for the firm, from a business point of view, to transfer back to their Cork factory part, at any rate, of the business which was sent to England.
It is stated in the report that contracts for the supply of silk-covered quilts to Dublin firms were executed at the English factory. If the Tariff Commission were logical in their argument, it would seem to me that that fact alone is an argument against imposing a duty on silk-covered quilts in so far as they refuse to impose a duty on quilts covered with other materials because of the action of the firm in transferring the manufacture of these quilts to England. If the argument applies in one case it applies in the other. The report also states that at present the Cork factory is engaged almost exclusively in manufacturing quilts from materials other than silk. That fact also makes it much more difficult to understand the motives that inspired the Commission to make the recommendation contained in this report. As I have said, it is impossible to follow their reasons. The action of the firm in making silk quilts in Britain for the Irish market could be quoted against the recommendation to impose a tariff on silk quilts. If their action in making quilts of other materials in the British factory for the Irish market can be quoted against the imposition of a tariff on quilts of other materials it seems to me that the whole application should have been granted or rejected.
It is possible that the Commission were torn between their acknowledgment of the obvious strength of the application for the tariff and their own free trade instincts and prejudices. This is a compromise which settles no difficulty and which, I suggest, leaves the position more confused than it was before they took up the consideration of the application. The firm of Charles Nolan and Sons, which opposed the application, feared that the imposition of the tariff might damage their trade for down in England and they claimed that they, in fact, give more employment in their factory than the applicant firm give. If there is any possibility—personally, I do not think that there is very great possibility—that the imposition of this duty would damage the trade of this firm, Charles Nolan and Sons, it is a most unsatisfactory position to have their trade damaged because of the imposition of a duty which is going to be of very little value to the applicant firm. If they succeeded in securing the full duty for which they asked it would undoubtedly have benefited their position very considerably, but the partial duty awarded to them cannot, in my opinion, be of great benefit to them and cannot result in any considerable amount of increased employment in their factory, whereas it may have all the effect of damaging the trade of Messrs. Nolan which the full duty would have had.
The Tariff Commission, in this matter as in a number of other matters, have merely succeeded in making things more difficult than they were. I do not know whether it is due to lack of courage or lack of ability to arrive at decisions or what it is, but they never seem to be able to arrive at any clear-cut solution of any problems that are presented to them. They certainly have not done so in this case. Although it is not our intention to oppose the resolution, because it is a step in the right direction, we would like to express our strong dissatisfaction with the half measures which the Tariff Commission recommend.
I agree with a good deal of what Deputy Lemass has said but probably I look at it from quite a different standpoint. The imposition of these tariffs should, in the first place, be very carefully considered. They are a cause of expense to the State and a cause of irritation to those engaged in business. Before we put expense on the State and cause any more irritation or delay in business, we should be satisfied that the State is going to receive some benefits on the other side from the imposition of tariffs. Having read this report, I certainly came to the conclusion that there was very grave doubt in the minds of those who drew up the report as to whether they should recommend a tariff in this case at all. I do not want to go into any details, but the total number of employees in this particular factory is given on page 8 of the report as 58. Thirty of the 58, 30 females, were engaged in the manufacture of down quilts, 6 females in the preparation of feathers and 4 males were engaged in general work. The remaining 18 workers were employed exclusively in the production of other articles. The total number of persons affected in this particular industry would be 36 females.
In view of the other facts in the report, dealing more or less with what one might call inefficiency in the ordinary way, I was not at all satisfied that the factory was an efficient one and that this was a case in which it was desirable to give assistance through protection. I would have liked to have a much better case when we propose to add this to our list of tariffs. I would also like where a tariff is recommended, that it should deal with a larger number of employees than are affected in this particular industry.
On the other side, while the Commission dealt very fully with the case made by the applicants for the tariff, they give us no information at all as to the details of the evidence of those who opposed the tariff. The report struck me from that particular point of view as being rather extraordinary. They say that Messrs. Nolan and Sons opposed the imposition of a tariff on down quilts mainly on the ground that it would have an adverse effect on their trade. Then they proceed to make the extraordinary statement to which I take exception: "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 manufacture of quilts." We should have been given both sides of the case, and I hope that in any future report we may have from the Commission we will have both sides of the case fairly set out, so that the House can judge as to whether the imposition of a tariff is a fair and equitable proposal.
For once I have certainly great sympathy with Deputy Good in his opposition to a tariff. We have heard about Nero fiddling while Rome was burning, but I think if somebody could put into a short phrase the attitude of the Tariff Commission in bringing in, after many years, a tariff on rosary beads, on margarine, and then on down quilts, affecting the work, at most, of a few dozen people, while half a million of our people are going off to the United States, and practically another one hundred thousand are idle, that would surpass Nero. Deputy Good said he had grave doubts as to whether the Tariff Commission should report in favour of the tariff. I think lots of other people who are in favour of tariffs, as well as people who are against them, will have grave doubts and grave suspicion of the policy of the Government in regard to tariffs.
I think it bears out the statement made on many occasions that the policy of the Government has been to damn tariffs by bringing forward the most ineffective tariffs they could after long delays. For the last two or three years they have brought in a tariff on rosary beads, affecting only a few dozen people. Certainly this tariff on down quilts, not on all down quilts, but on silk down quilts, that we are told will raise the number of employed by ten persons, caps the lot. Deputy Good has certainly every right, from his point of view, to question the whole thing. I think if the Minister set out deliberately to give Deputy Good, and those who stand with him, an argument against tariffs he has done the correct thing in bringing forward such a tariff as this. We cannot, of course, oppose the motion, because the tariff does give employment to ten people, but if we could only have a motion to abolish the Ministry and the Tariff Commission, owing to their delay in bringing forward tariffs that are necessary, we would vote against them, and sweep them out if we could.
With Deputy Lemass I regret that the Tariff Commission have not seen fit to extend this tariff to materials other than silk and artificial silk. In paragraph 22 of the Tariff Commission Report it is stated that the applicants supplied confidential figures showing the number and value of the quilts produced in Cork in the years 1920, 1923, 1925 and 1927. These figures indicated a decline in the last year as compared with the other three years of 64 per cent., etc. I understand that at the Tariff Commission, in answer to one of the questions put them, the applicants, Messrs. Booth and Fox, Ltd., had to go over the four years that I have already indicated and give the total number of quilts made in Cork during these years. They had then to divide them into twelve groups, according to prices, and the cloth from which they were made. Messrs. Booth and Fox ascertained that for the year 1927 the percentage of cotton-covered quilts made and supplied to their customers was 65.7. The feeling is that this tax of 20 per cent. on imported quilts, which is recommended by the Tariff Commission and which we all accept as a contribution along certain lines of economic policy, will affect only 34.3 of the total imports of quilts. I suggest that the Minister should go a little further and see if we cannot capture that 34.3 in addition to what we would be able to capture under the tariff of 20 per cent. If this tariff on quilts is to serve the purpose for which it is intended, it should be made apply to cotton-covered quilts as well as to quilts covered with silk or artificial silk. The report of the Tariff Commission is quite clear on the matter, especially in the last sentence in paragraph 22, where it is stated that the figures indicated a decline in 1927 over the figures for previous years that were available. We should not take a matter of this kind in a halfhearted way; half measures are not of much use. We welcome the tariff of 20 per cent., but we suggest that the Minister should go further and apply the tariff to cotton-covered quilts as well.
I also have received a letter from Messrs. Booth and Fox, which Deputy Anthony has made into a speech. I think that the case which is made out, that we should have protected the whole of these goods as distinct from making our legislation on the subject of imported silk, is a good case and it is well made out. I am glad personally for small mercies. I am getting grey-haired and I have lost a good many of the illusions of my youth. I do not expect much, and I certainly do not expect much from the Tariff Commission. But, after all, we are glad for the crumbs from the rich man's table. Lazarus was glad to get them. Even if it is only the labour of thirty-six women that is protected and that Deputy Good regarded as so inadequate, well, at any rate, it is protected. I suggest that Deputy Good should carry his commiseration of the littleness of this effort into practical effect. He should not be merely complaining that this has only to do with thirty-six women; he ought to try to do something to make it concern considerably more than thirty-six women, and possibly some men.
I do not know whether Deputy Good did mean that speech of his to be the adumbration of an approach to the possibility of the conception of his conversion towards being a protectionist. Perhaps it is a case of straws in the wind or shadows coming before. I have very little hope of a good many things and a good many people, and for that reason I tend to exaggerate any claim of a possibility of hope in relation to Deputy Good. The mountain was in labour and produced a mouse. The Tariff Commission has been in a state of gestation for years, and it has produced a rosary beads and a silk coverlet. Naturally when it was not doing much it wanted to do really nice things, so it produced a silk coverlet. It left coachbuilding and paper and tanning to the Greek Kalends. Flour is thrown on the dust-heap. But the Tariff Commission has given us protection to the extent of 20 per cent. in the manufacture of an article in connection with which thirty-six women are engaged. After all, it has not lived in vain. There is something to be put upon its tombstone, and the sooner that tombstone is put up in order to have it put on, the better.
Deputies have indicated that it is useless or very nearly useless to impose a tariff merely on silk-covered quilts, but the applicants indicated that the need for a tariff arose out of the silk duty which was imposed in Great Britain. In the course of their original statement to the Tariff Commission they said: "It is submitted that our application does not arise in consequence of any inefficiency on our part. If our export trade was not stopped to us, and had we not been compelled to open up a new factory in England and limit the volume of our Irish production, we should not trouble the Commission with this application. With a free British market we did and could compete with all or any of our competitors." It seems to me on reading the Report that what happened was that this Company was suddenly deprived of an outside market by a tariff imposed by another country. The deprivation of this outside market increased the cost of production; the overheads were relatively higher. It was a firm which was long established and which was well able to do the whole manufacturing processes that were involved. It was a firm that was able to sell all classes of these quilts abroad. It seems to me that all that was necessary was to give it some substitute for the export market, to give it some lift in order to help it over the difficulties which it got into as a result of this English tariff.
I do not like to interrupt the Minister, but is he aware that this factory was opened on the other side before the silk tariff was introduced? You see that fact referred to by the Commission on page 9. It is indicated that the machinery was transferred to that factory from Cork and it was not replaced. Now we are asked to put on a tariff to protect a factory in Cork out of which the machinery has been taken.
That strengthens the case.
I read the Report. It is believed that the imposition of this tariff will give the Saorstát market in silk-covered quilts to this firm.
It is a question whether it deserves it.
This tariff will give extra work, which will enable the firm again to operate on a competitive basis. So far as the cotton-covered and other quilts are concerned, it has suffered nothing in regard to the market for those articles. It can sell the cotton-covered quilts in England just as it could sell them in former years. It seems to be a firm which was always able to compete until the silk tariff came along. It seems to be doing something that is uncalled for, although, of course, a firm which is applying for a tariff would like always to get all the tariff it could. Messrs. Booth and Fox will no doubt write to Deputies and urge them to use all the influence they can to have the tariff extended to every class of quilt. Nevertheless, looking at the matter as it is presented in this Report, it seems that there are no obvious grounds given for giving protection so far as cotton-covered quilts are concerned. But their market in silk-covered quilts in England has been cut off. That cutting-off has upset the balance of the firm's economy. It is proposed by this tariff to restore the position by giving them the Saorstát market in silk-covered quilts.
The machinery for manufacturing them has gone to the other side.
I presume that the machinery for manufacturing them can be brought back. The manufacture of silk-covered quilts apparently has been dropped, because they had only in competition a fraction of the Saorstát markets and that fraction was not sufficient to justify the continuance of manufacturing silk-covered quilts here. If the Saorstát market, which is quite substantial, is restored to them, then presumably any machinery that may be necessary will be either brought back or new machinery will be got. If the firm is not willing either to bring back the machinery that has been taken over, or to procure any new equipment that is necessary for the manufacturing of the article that is protected, it does not, I think, deserve the reputation for efficiency which it apparently has and which the Tariff Commission believes it justly has.
There is this one other point in connection with cotton-covered quilts. If there is any possibility and any danger that the tariff will bring about increased charges to the public in this particular commodity, it is as well that we should not have those increased charges imposed on the people who can least afford to pay. It seems to me if there is any increase in charges here as a result of this tariff, it will be a charge on those who will be least hit by it. So far as the other quilts are concerned they will be sold as cheaply as before. If Booth and Fox were able to make them against all competition before they should be able to make them to sell against all competition in future. This tariff will mean that they will sell silk-covered quilts all over the Saorstát. I do not pretend to know the exact condition of the market but it seems to me probable that the fact that they will be supplying silk-covered quilts all over the Saorstát will be some advantage to them in marketing even their cotton-covered quilts.
The Minister surely appreciates that this firm has a factory in England and presumably some representatives from that factory will be calling on the drapery buyers and selling cotton-covered quilts not made in England as well as silk-covered quilts made in Cork.
At any rate the danger was that the factory would shut down. If the factory is maintained for the manufacture of silk quilts here, if they can, as the Tariff Commission is convinced, manufacture those other articles, all things considered, as cheaply and as economically in Cork as they can manufacture them in Great Britain, this firm will have every incentive to pass at least as many orders to Cork as will keep the factory running on the most economical lines.