Yesterday evening I was dealing with some of the points raised by Deputies on the question of the appearance of the Irish delegation at the Tariff Truce Conference. Deputy Lemass quoted extracts from newspapers, and from these sought to draw conclusions rather difficult to follow. One time it seemed to me we had, contrary to his opinion of what was correct, decided to go there against the Truce. Another time, contrary to his opinion, we decided to go there to support the Truce. Another time, still contrary to his opinion, we went there not knowing whether we were going to support the Truce or to be against it. This was founded on three newspaper excerpts. In the first of these the political correspondent of an Irish newspaper said: "The Free State Government has not yet decided whether it will participate actively in the Conference." The word "actively" is to be noted.
In the second extract there was an account of an interview with myself in which I said—and there was a certain part of this which Deputy Lemass was unfortunate enough to leave out of his recital—"Any suggestion that the decision of Saorstát Eireann to take part in this Conference indicates a fresh orientation of the Government policy on the matter of trade barriers is very wide of the mark." That is surely precise enough to start with.
The newspaper says—not from me: "The statement was with reference to a comment in the ‘Financial Times' which suggested that our decision to take part in the Preliminary Conference to assemble at Geneva during the month might indicate that we were prepared to agree to a tariff truce for two or three years." In reference to that suggestion, it "might indicate that we were prepared" to do so. I said: "Any suggestion that the decision of Saorstát Eireann to take part in this Conference indicates a fresh orientation of the Government policy on the matter of trade barriers is very wide of the mark." The Deputy says he cannot understand what that means. I went on to enlarge on that: "A blunt proposal to mark time on tariffs is not acceptable to us." I said that our people would not be called exactly observers. Their main duty will be to watch the proceedings for my Department. I enlarged on that and said: "The question of a tariff truce is only one of many recommendations to be discussed at the Conference. The matter which interests us most and of which we approve is the proposal for an economic rapprochement with particular reference to the question of assisting countries which are mainly agricultural and which from various causes are undeveloped industrially." Surely that is a perfect description of the attitude to be adopted by anyone who knows things in this country as they exist, and when he knows that that country is to be fitted into a European mould where in Europe there is developing this very definite tendency against tariffs. I further said: "We anticipate that whatever results from the Preliminary Conference will be reviewed in the light of the larger recommendations of the World Economic Conference at the final Diplomatic Conference. As Professor O'Sullivan, Minister for Education, and I pointed out at the League of Nations Conference this year, our tariffs are organised on scientific lines, or, at least, much more scientifically than the tariff systems of many other countries. At present we are in a process of examining the whole problem and various industries have not yet been finally considered. In these circumstances we could not agree to a state of affairs which would stereotype our tariff system in its present state of development." Yet the Deputy is afraid that delegates who go over after that sort of statement are bound to commit this country to a lowering of tariff barriers.
Finally he quoted again, though not in full, the statement sent to the Secretary-General of the League of Nations announcing that the delegation from this country was going to take part in the proceedings. The terms of that are important. "The Government of the Irish Free State are anxious to examine how they can, conformably with the principles advocated by their delegates at the last session of the Assembly, co-operate to the fullest extent with other members of the League of Nations in economic disarmament. Accordingly, I am instructed by the Minister for External Affairs to state that my Government are prepared to appoint representatives at the proposed Tariff Truce Conference with a view to considering whether, having regard to the special conditions of countries industrially under-developed, a truce could be arranged in which the Irish Free State would find it possible to participate." The Deputy, if one is to get any line of policy from him, apparently was stronger on this line, that we should not have been there at all. We give a wrong impression of public opinion in this country, notwithstanding the interviews I have read, and the very definite communication to the Secretary-General of the League, that we are anxious to see how far we could co-operate. But that is limited by the words "conformably with the principles advocated by their delegates at the last session of the Assembly." Finally we said we were prepared to appoint representatives at the proposed Tariff Truce Conference with a view to considering whether, "having regard to the special conditions of countries industrially under-developed, a truce could be arranged in which the Irish Free State would find it possible to participate." I wonder has the Deputy viewed the state of Europe? Has he any idea of the varying policies there are in Europe, and that attempts are going to be made to reconcile them at this trade conference? Has he any idea that the main mover in this was the French and not the British delegation? The main representative of the nation moving most in the matter stated that no matter what would be the outcome of this conference there would be certain industries in France that would have to be protected, and that they would have reservations in regard to these, and almost the same statement was made by all the people who confessed themselves to be in principle in favour of the lowering of the tariff barriers.
At the World Economic Conference where this question was first brought up there was a model drawn up by a certain English one-time member of Parliament, showing in a particular form, the tariff barriers throughout Europe. He had all the countries there represented. How the particular figures he had were reduced to numbers I do not know. What his index figure was and how the scheme was laid out I do not know but on the back of this pamphlet, which was circulated around Geneva at the time the Conference sat, the countries were all given in the order of their tariff barriers. Out of 33 countries mentioned this country stood about fifth in the list. The list started with the untariffed countries. What do we find at that Conference? The countries most definitely in favour of stereotyping the present conditions and having a tariff truce were the countries that stood at the other end of that list, the countries represented by the figures 46 and 43, whereas we were represented by the figure corresponding to 12. Is it wise to stay away from a conference of that sort and let the whole issue go by default, to have ourselves represented as irrefragable, looked upon as people trying to stand against what is almost the unanimous European desire with regard to tariffs.
We found that there are quite a number of nations who are of the same mind as our own in this matter, and even nations that have the greatest drive towards the lowering of tariffs or the stereotyping of them had also reservations and provisos with regard to many of their main industries. Is it the proper thing to let your case go by default or to stand and make your case? Our representatives are not going to appear before the Committee as advocating something which is apparently in contrast to the European movement at the moment. Where the work done is getting your case pleaded through personal contact with delegates of other countries, getting people to appreciate the conditions under which your country exists and getting the European system moulded to allow for the fuller development of other countries at present not industrially developed, the Deputy cannot speak with any appreciation of the proceedings unless he has steeped himself in the proceedings of the World Economic Conference or appreciated at least the position of certain countries which said that certain terms would have to be made for these countries, and that special consideration would have to be given to the backward state of agriculture even in the main agricultural countries of Europe.
Now this has become an important matter. It is worth while going into it in detail. I spoke last night in summary on points that happened in the Assembly of this year. The resolution on which the present Conference was founded was something, at any rate, whether for good or bad. The presence of an Irish delegation at the last Assembly was something for good or bad. The main resolution presented to the Assembly last year was sent to the second Commission of the League. The Minister for Education was the Irish representative on that Commission, and when this resolution came forward he adverted to it in the following way: The resolution was then framed in different terms from what it is now. Professor O'Sullivan queried the phraseology used in the first resolution, and asked what was the relation between the two ideas as expressed in two paragraphs. He asked "was paragraph 5 the principal and necessary condition of paragraph 4. In other words, would it be necessary, in order to be admitted to the Conference of Governments, for them to have undertaken to conclude an economic truce? To his mind, the drafting as it now stood demanded this interpretation. If such were the case the speaker would presently draw his conclusions, but if, on the contrary, paragraph 4 was the most important he considered that it would be necessary to revise the drafting of the resolution. He believed that by excluding certain Governments from a Conference called by the League of Nations the latter would be making a barrier between nations whose economic situation was good and other nations which, by reason of their economic situation, could not pledge themselves to an economic armistice. The speaker could not associate himself with any resolution which would exclude such nations, because such a resolution would not only fail to be progressive, but would be a step in the wrong direction." But the speaker pointed out that his Government "could not adhere to paragraph 6 of the resolution. The Customs Tariffs Committee of his country had, it was true, received a great number of proposals and tariff regulations and the Government would be obliged to apply the latter if the Committee gave them their approval. Ireland could not therefore adhere to the Customs truce as the Government did not wish in such a matter to tie the hands of its successors."
That was the only part of the discussion which took place when the motion first came before the Committee. In the end, to get the matter clarified, because there was considerable doubt as to what these two paragraphs to which Professor O'Sullivan had drawn attention meant and what was the reaction between the two of them, Professor O'Sullivan brought forward the following resolution. He said: "He was of opinion that the report did not sufficiently take into account the objections raised by the delegations of countries with under-developed industries. The Committee had definitely admitted the differences in the point of view between the delegations of these countries and the others. He drew attention to the inadequacy in the drafting of the report on pages 4, 20 and 21, and proposed that the Drafting Committee should meet to modify the text on page 4." He also proposed the following amendment. This is what I really want to draw attention to. The amendment proposed by Professor O'Sullivan was to this effect: Following on the line of the previous paragraph, it "Recommends that negotiations should be begun between such members of the League of Nations and non-member States as may desire to participate therein with a view to promoting, at the earliest possible date, a meeting which would be convened by the Council to frame a first collective agreement for developing and facilitating economic relations by all practicable means, and especially by lowering excessive tariffs (instead of ‘Customs barriers') and reducing other hindrances to trade, while taking account of the provisos and reservations necessary to meet the just demands of States which are still at an early stage of their industrial evolution, and do not wish their freedom of development to be hampered."
A later paragraph reads:
"In order that the preparatory work and the negotiations themselves should be pursued on a firm basis and in an atmosphere of confidence it also recommends that States which are prepared to participate therein, other than States which are at an early stage of their industrial evolution, should agree not to increase their protective tariffs above the present level...."
That formulates not merely our case but the case for a considerable number of other countries in Europe who feel themselves to be in the same position as ourselves. An amendment which put in the phrase "lowering excessive tariffs," instead of the phrase which was formerly in, "removing Customs barriers," was put in at the instance of the Professor and in this proposed amendment the phrase from the World Economic Conference Report did not go against tariffs but against excessive tariffs, and when they went to recount what they meant by excessive tariffs they spoke particularly about tariffs put on for bargaining purposes between the nations in mid-Europe and tariffs more or less of the retaliation type. These were the tariffs specially aimed at, while no doubt there was an atmosphere that tariffs generally were a hindrance to international trade. However, this resolution was proposed and we drew attention in that phrase to the situation in our country and to that in other countries. Again, this is a quotation of the World Economic Conference Report: "The just demand of States which are still at an early stage of their industrial evolution and do not wish their freedom of development to be hampered." Portion of that is again from the Economic Conference Report and it drew that whole resolution which had been distorted and warped in the Economic Conference back to what they had before them. That almost broke up the second Conference—the bringing forward of that resolution.
In the end that resolution was sent down to the Drafting Committee and at that Committee there was a smaller number of nations represented than at the main Committee, in which all the nations represented at last year's assembly took part. In the closer association of the Committee a resolution was formulated and passed and emerged from the Committee, and that resolution is now before the people at Geneva and is being discussed as a basis for negotiation. The agreement reached and the modifications made amounted to this: that countries that wanted to get freer development, as between limited groups of themselves, might agree to stereotyped tariff barriers as they were at the moment and so, having to sterotype them, they would get a certain atmosphere and go on to reduce them; further, that there should be a Conference called to see what kind of Customs duties should be entered into and that later, following on that, there might be negotiation between the States interested and who showed their interest by signing that tariff truce to develop in other ways freedom of trade between themselves, to cut down barriers, or to prevent economic aggression between that group. They were to pursue negotiations leading to these things, but the big thing that was determined at the instance of the States for whom that resolution spoke—nations mainly agricultural and necessarily so, and nations mainly agricultural but not necessarily remaining so and with their industrial position necessarily backward—was that it was finally added on to what was previously agreed, that before anything was done with the imprimatur of the League there should be a diplomatic conference of all the States called and that whatever emerged from the previous conference would be discussed before anything final was determined. That, to my mind, shows how Geneva works and shows the benefit of paying attention to Geneva. It also reveals the danger of closing our eyes to Geneva, and simply remaining here at home and saying that we are going to stop at home, shut ourselves up into a pocket, have no connection with the outside world, and are going to pursue our own policy.
We cannot close our eyes to what is going on in Europe, and we certainly cannot close our eyes to a movement which has such force and power behind it, and which, to anyone acquainted with the situation in Central Europe, is so necessary for this scheme in regard to tariff barriers. How are we to negotiate trade treaties with foreign countries? Are we going to remain at home, simply saying that we are determined on economic development inside the country and that we are indifferent to what happens outside? Are we going to get our position made clear and have our position met with a more sympathetic response when we come to negotiate trade treaties with other countries who are interested in the dropping of trade barriers to the development of trade more freely between nations? Will we get ourselves better understood by staying here and adopting a sulky attitude, saying that we do not care what happens, or by playing our part in negotiations and seeing if we can negotiate commercial treaties? I think it should be clear to anyone who studies trade reports that if it was only for the preservation of the trade of one firm in the country, the Ford firm in Cork, it is necessary that we should negotiate in this way.
We have a tariff policy here, a tariff policy that, owing to the incidence of burdens it may put on the consuming population and owing to the fact that that consuming population is much too poor at the moment, has to be spaced out year by year, but is a progressive tariff policy. It is a tariff policy that is going to progress until every industry that likes to make application has that application adjudged by the Tariff Commission, or is an item to be taken out to be treated specially apart from the Tariff Commission, as were the sugar beet and some other matters. That is our situation at home. Can we say that we will pay attention only to the home market and let everything else go? We can close down Fords and try to get the 5,000 workers employed there employed elsewhere. Remember that that particular concern depends almost entirely on its export trade, and gives occupation at the moment to one-third as many men as all the tariffs we have put on have brought into extra employment. It is no light thing to come to a decision which might mean the disappearance of Fords and the employment they give in the country.