One would expect a much more important statement from the Minister in putting this Quota Order before us. The arrangement under which the Order comes is certainly a very important one. It has been very elaborately described as an important one by many Ministers and their followers. The arrangement under which the Order is made puts a very big tax upon the people of this country for their coal. We will have another opportunity of discussing that with the Minister and it will give the House an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon that tax. But the fact is that in the full year the operation of this Order will impose a tax of £600,000 or more on the people of this country as a customs duty in respect of their coal. The arrangement out of which the Order comes has been described by Deputy Geoghegan, speaking in Mullingar on the 14th January, in these terms: "The new understanding between Britain and the Free State is a milestone in their national life. In its own small way it has placed the country's trade on a basis of equality with Great Britain." It was further referred to in a leading article of the Irish Press on the 7th January last. It first referred to the other Orders generally and then remarked: “Any trade agreement we make with these States must bring the balance nearer to equality, the ideal, of course, being absolute equality as in the cattle against coal pact,” and again in a leading article the Irish Press stated: “The agreement is a trade agreement similar to those recently made between other nations. It is in line with the new direction international trade has taken since the policy of developing native resources became general throughout Europe. This new form of trade is practically one of barter by which the surplus of one nation's products is exchanged for the surplus of another's to make up a home deficiency in the imported commodity.” So that the general stress which was made by commentators of the Government in what was involved showed that a very considerable amount of importance was attached to it. I do not know why the Minister described this as an informal agreement. If it were so made, we would like to hear a more elaborate statement of the matter from the trade aspect than the Minister gave the House on this occasion.
The question arises whether this was a war arrangement or a peace arrangement. The question of coal was first tackled by the Government as a war matter. Five shillings penal tariff was put on British coal coming into this country. Substantial volumes of coal were bought from Germany and Poland and there was no tax upon that coal. Suddenly this informal agreement changed the whole position and gives a monopoly of the coal supplies of this country to Great Britain. We would like to hear from the Minister whether the war aspect has completely gone off and if it is a trade agreement, whether we are going to be exempt from the £600,000 tax which this agreement, such as it is, imposes upon the people in respect of their coal. It has been figured out that this arrangement puts an additional burden upon the country as a whole of £876,000, as additional tariff to be levied by Britain on the increase of 150,000 head of cattle going into Britain. It has been figured out also that it imposes another burden upon the taxpayer here to the extent of £140,000 in respect of bounties.
If you take all of these figures and add them together, you find that £1,600,000 has to be paid by someone in this country to keep the coal-cattle agreement in operation. This is represented as putting the trading of the two countries on an equal footing! The Minister's figures for the trade of this country generally for 1933-34 disclose that whereas we imported from Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1933 and 1934 goods value £50,032,000 they only took from us goods value £17,939,000. In our trade with Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the year 1933 we were down £7,092,000 and for the year 1934 we were down £8,970,000. It should strike the House as a rather remarkable thing that we entered into a trade pact with a country which gave us, no doubt, the advantage of relieving the farmers of 150,000 cattle that were eating them out of their homes, and which they could not otherwise capitalise—that we should give them a chance of selling them even at the bankrupt prices at which they are selling them at the present time—and that for that advantage we incurred an expenditure of £1,600,000 on our side. On the British side, we are enabling them to put about 5,000 additional miners into employment and we give them a very substantial volume of trade involving no cost of any kind to the people of Great Britain. These superficial facts should drive the Minister or some member of the Government to make a more elaborate statement on this agreement than the Minister has given us here.
Since the agreement was entered into quite a number of other points have arisen. It has been pointed out in various articles in both the local and the daily Press that apart altogether from the 5/- per ton tariff that is imposed on all coal now coming into the country, the price of coal has been raised pretty substantially for the consumer here. The Irish Times reported on the 28th of February that “Householders and others who use coal are aware from experience that the price of the commodity has advanced considerably during the past two weeks.” That is since the quota came into operation. The report goes on: “It appears that, quality for quality, British coal is 6/- per ton dearer at the port of Dublin than Continental coal, and as there is also a Customs duty of 5/- per ton on British coal, the price works out at 11/- per ton more than the Continental product.” That aspect of the matter has been drawn to the Minister's notice by some Deputies in this House. The question then arises for discussion by the Minister as to what exactly is the position and what precautions he took in entering into the agreement to see that, assuming that he was levying 5/- per ton on coal, there was going to be no addition to this increase in cost because of the cutting-off of Continental supplies and the giving of a monopoly to the British coal suppliers.
We remember that when the coal taxes were imposed as part of the economic war against Britain, a number of Deputies of the Minister's Party were very vocal in pointing out how much superior German and Polish coal was to the coal that was obtainable from Great Britain. No doubt there are people who will controvert that but, nevertheless, the fact remains that when the matter of the coal supplies was under discussion at a meeting of the Cork Harbour Commissioners in January, 1934, it was stated by a supporter of the Government that "this Order was made to strengthen the morale of the Irish people when the British Government sought to beat them into submission." He was referring to the Order which put a penal tax on British coal. He went on to quote figures of the board's engineer to show that in purchasing Westphalian coal as against English, they effected a saving of £189 in one cargo, £208 in another and £167 in another. He quoted figures from the same source to show that it took 43 cwts. of English coal to accomplish what could be accomplished by 38 cwts. in one case and 31 in another of German coal.
Deputy Corry supported the amendment that they should not depart from the arrangement they had come to to buy no British coal, and he said that "the British coal was absolutely wiped out regarding price by German coal, which burned better, was cleaner and better in every way. He thought there should be prohibition of British imports —the sooner the better in view of the figures in regard to the relative value of these coals." So, members of the Fianna Fáil Party, unless they have changed their minds on the subject, consider that the people are getting an inferior class of coal now, and that they are being forced by the Minister's policy to get that because they can get nothing else. They are going to pay a higher price for it, and to pay a tax of 5/- per ton in addition. The position that we are in, as far as explaining the agreement is concerned, is that we have no more information about it than we had in the very beginning. The whole policy of the Ministry with regard to it is so contradictory as to warrant a very substantial statement on the whole matter of the agreement and the way in which it affects this country. The Minister will probably remember that when this Order was first issued one of the Dublin daily newspapers wrote:
"On Christmas Eve the Free State Executive Council gave notice of a new ‘offensive' in the economic war—for we must assume that its latest action is designed primarily as a blow against Great Britain. It issued an Order, under the Control of Imports Act, prohibiting imports of coal, culm, shale and slack from to-day until the 1st February next."
Surely when the Minister's policy on Christmas Eve was such as to draw a statement of that kind from that Dublin newspaper, which has some concern for its reputation in commenting on public matters, the Minister must understand the position in which the country as a whole is placed. It is degrading to the position of the Government and its prestige that it should now come into the House for the purpose of implementing, to some extent, that agreement, without any explanation, good, bad or indifferent, as to the reasons that brought them to make this agreement, and the effect which this agreement is going to have on the country. The House is entitled to an explanation.
In the matter of price, too, I think there is a point to which the Minister should direct his attention. If the Minister takes his own trade statistics as to the amount of coal brought in in February and March—the only months for which we have any information from him as yet—he will see that the prices of coal tend to rise. There is rather an interesting point on the other side that, if you take the British figures for imports of coal into this country and the value per ton of these imports, the coal they are sending here, according to the British figures, has fallen in value per month per ton. It would bear out the complaint that is being made by some of the people that have made complaints in the matter that an inferior class of coal is coming in here. It would be interesting to know how his statisticians place the price on the coal which they pay at the port if a different tendency is shown by the figures quoted with regard to prices and the figures quoted in the British returns. However, the Minister will surely not tell the House that it need not know any more about this agreement than what he has told them here to-night.