Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £334,756 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1938, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí Oifig an Aire Tionnscail agus Tráchtála, maraon le Coiste Comhairlitheach na Rátaí, agus Ildeontaisí-i-gCabhair.
That a sum not exceeding £334,756 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, including the Rates Advisory Committee, and sundry Grants-in-Aid.
I presume it is not necessary at this stage to explain the details of the Estimate. Deputies have these details before them in the Book of Estimates, together with footnotes relating to each sub-head, which give them the usual information in relation to them. It is not practicable to give more than a very brief review of the work done by the various sections of the Department of Industry and Commerce during the past year, or of the progress made in industrial development and in other matters which have engaged attention during that period. Many of the matters of more outstanding importance in connection with the protection of industries, by customs duty or otherwise, and the development of civil air transport facilities, came before the Dáil in one way or another during the course of the year and were fully discussed here. Statements were made as to the policy that was being adopted and the arrangements that were being made, of which Deputies are aware.
In the trade and industries section of the Department the main concern continues to be the establishment of new industries and the expansion of the industries already established. It can be said with accuracy that the progress recorded during previous years continued at an accelerated pace, and that the results in increased production and employment were generally satisfactory. On the 1st September, 1936, there were approximately 78,000 persons employed in protected industries in the Saorstát. During the course of the year, a number of new factories were opened, the more important of which numbered about 50, and included factories for the following purposes:— for the manufacture of boots and shoes, 6; of flour, 1; of leather, 2; of mattresses, 1; of waxed containers and other cardboard containers 2; of bricks, 1; of motor springs, axles and windscreens, 1; of paint, enamel and varnish, 1; of apparel, 6; of hosiery, 3; of furniture, 2; and one each for the following purposes: the dyeing and preparation of furs; the manufacture of certain chemicals; iron-founding; the manufacture of buttons; the manufacture of radio sets and gramophone records; of cutlery and engineering tools; of wallpapers; of art silk knitted fabric.
Since 1932, according to the factories and workshops register, approximately 800 additional factories and workshops have been established in the Saorstát. Roughly half of that number would come within the category described as factories, and the other half within the category described as workshops. During the past year arrangements were also made for the establishment of new factories which have not yet come into production, but are in course of construction or equipment, for the manufacture of asbestos cement, carpets, clothing machinery of certain classes; of cotton cloth; of nails and screws; of fancy leather goods; of wrapping paper; and a number of other articles not previously made in the Saorstát. While the progress made in the promotion of industry must, I think, be regarded as satisfactory and as indicative of the success of the Government's programme to that end, there is still very considerable room for further expansion. A number of large-scale industrial propositions, some of which are of a very interesting nature, are at present under consideration, and it is probable that the majority of them will be initiated during the course of this or the coming year.
In connection with the figure I gave of the number of persons engaged in protected industries, Deputies will recollect that it has been frequently stated here that these protected industries in the Saorstát are run largely on child or female labour. These statements, made here and repeated outside, have sometimes done very definite damage to the national reputation. It is very easy to demonstrate that they are without foundation in fact. Of the total number of persons employed in protected industries, 81.3 per cent. are adults: that is to say, more than four out of every five persons so employed. During the 12 months which ended in September, 1936, that proportion increased; that is, the proportion of adults increased and the proportion of juveniles decreased. Of the adults employed, approximately 60 per cent. were men and 40 per cent. were women. In this respect also it can be said that during the past 12 months the proportion of males to the total increased.
Conditions of employment in Saorstát industries are now regulated under the Conditions of Employment Act, and it can be said generally that they conform to, and in some cases are better than, the provisions of the various conventions for the improvement of industrial conditions adopted from time to time by the International Labour Conference at Geneva.
So far as the Conditions of Employment Act is concerned, the efforts of my Department have, up to the present, been directed mainly towards making the necessary adjustments and temporary arrangements to meet the wide variety of conditions in industry, but only a tentative beginning has been made as yet in the preparation of the comprehensive codes for different occupations which the Act was designed to facilitate. In regard to rates of wages in industry, they are in the main higher than those prevailing in Great Britain or those prevailing in other countries with standards of living similar to our own. In 15 the rates of wages are regulated under the Trades Boards Acts, and minimum rates fixed by various boards are enforced by my Department. During the year 1936, the rates of wages paid 6,400 workers were examined by industrial inspectors, which examination entailed the inspection of 1,194 firms, representing, approximately, 58 per cent. of the firms on the register. I do not suggest, of course, that there is no room for improvement in some trades in relation to wages, and conditions of employment, but the facts to which I have referred demonstrate that the general standards prevailing in Saorstát industries, as a whole, do not justify or support the kind of attack to which we have become accustomed in recent years.
Frequent reference has been also made both in this House and in a section of the Press to the prices charged for Saorstát products. While I agree that in circumstances it is necessary to keep under constant review the prices charged for protected commodities, recent references in a particular newspaper, and by certain Deputies, are most unfair in their implication in respect to Saorstát industries. For example, a mere statement of the prices at which certain articles could have been purchased in 1931, as compared with the present time, is most misleading unless reference is also made to the substantial increases in the price of many raw materials which have occurred in the meantime, due to the inflationary effect of expenditure on armaments and artificial scarcity of these materials arising from the same cause. Furthermore, a comparison of present prices with those of 1931, when our markets were open to receive the surplus products of every country in the world is meaningless, unless an attempt is made to ascertain whether the prices at which we could have purchased specified goods imported from abroad in 1931 could be regarded as economic by any standards. Presumably, in those days when this country was the happy hunting ground for the dumpers from every land, the goods purchased by our importers came in at the lowest prices at which sweated labour could be got, or when subsidised, or what forced selling of surplus stock on a falling market made possible. Are we to take it that those who judge the efficiency of Saorstát industries by comparing present prices with those of 1931 will condemn as inefficient any industry which cannot get down to that level? If so, I wonder how many British industries will pass that test.
Surely the main question in relation to our prices is whether they are reasonable under present conditions and in comparison with present prices prevailing in neighbouring countries, having due regard to the relevant factors, the cost of labour, the cost of materials, overhead charges and profits. On the whole, the prevailing prices of Saorstát industrial products are reasonable, although during the past year we were constrained to require the Prices Commission to investigate the prices charged for furniture, for mattresses, for batch bread and for all materials and appliances used in the building of houses. The best regulator of prices in any protected market is internal competition, and, although this was absent in a number of industries in earlier years, it has now become operative. It has become operative in all but a few industries, and, in relation to these few, special arrangements for controlling prices have been made. I know that many Deputies regard the present Control of Prices Act as ineffective, and with that view I find it hard to disagree. The Act, however, was introduced in 1932, and, at that time, many of the Opposition members in the Dáil and Seanad did not appreciate the necessity for wide powers for the investigation and control of prices, and the Bill suffered considerable amendment during its passage through the Oireachtas.
Many of those responsible for the amendments which reduced the effectiveness of the measure are now the loudest critics of the Government on that account. However, I have prepared new proposals for legislation for the control of prices. These are now ready and will be submitted to the Dáil in the course of a few days. I trust on this occasion the Opposition will direct their energies to improvement of the Bill rather than to destroying its effect. I think most people with any real knowledge of the subject and who are not warped in their judgment by prejudice, will agree that the new industries in the Saorstát are as reasonably efficient as they could be expected to be in all the circumstances.
The absence of industrial tradition amongst workers in many areas, our deficiency in industrial experience, and the special difficulties created by the limited size of our home market and other causes, were an obstacle to progress which was not easily overcome, but, as time passes, the efficiency of our industries will continue to increase. They are now producing a wide variety of articles which, in quality, design and price are as good as any which could be imported, and, although some industries have made greater progress than others, the general standard is good.
There is an aspect of our industrial programme to which I might make some special reference, and that is the exploration and development of our mineral and other natural resources. As Deputies are aware, the annual imports of fuel into the Saorstát are very considerable, and any action which might result in the substitution of imported fuel by our own fuels would have very beneficial results on national economy and unemployment. Apart from electrical development, there are two very obvious kinds of approach to that task, first, the examination, and, if practicable, the development, of our own coal measures, and, secondly, the increased utilisation of peat. During the year which has passed, we received the experts' report on the exploration work carried out at Arigna upon which a fairly substantial sum of money had been expended. On the information supplied in that report I was forced to conclude that, with the technical processes now available, the development of the minerals in that area on a scale more extensive than has been at present undertaken should not be initiated by the State. The report of the exploration of the coal measures at Slieve Ardagh, County Tipperary, has not yet been received, although I expect it in the very near future. I think I can say that there is good reason for hoping that the report will not be unfavourable, and it may justify a fairly substantial coal mining project in that locality.