This debate will be of considerable benefit not merely to the House but to the country in general if, after it, we are in a position to realise how difficult are present world conditions and how serious is our position in respect of supplies of many commodities which we cannot produce here or which we have not available as natural raw materials. It is obvious from the Minister's statement and from all the information at our disposal that the immediate future, and certainly the next three or four years, will present problems of ever-increasing difficulty, and will beset this country with difficulties which in the past we found comparatively simple to overcome. It will be in our interest to overcome these difficulties as best we can, but in order to do so, we must first realise the extent of our problem and the steps which should be taken to overcome it.
The most obvious problem requiring immediate attention is an increase in our production and in our supplies of goods, not merely for home consumption, but, in so far as trade generally is concerned, primarily for export. Much attention has been given to, and many statements have been made from time to time on the need for greater production, but merely making exhortations to industrialists, workers or farmers will not solve our production problem. No matter how beneficial speeches or words of encouragement may be, the fact is that a verbal lead will in no way overcome the difficulties with which farmers, industrialists and the workers in both branches of our national economy are confronted at present.
Industrialists are faced with shortages of many materials, not merely of plant and machinery, but of essential raw material, and the problems which beset them can only be overcome by an increase in the supply of these materials, an increase in the supply of plant and machinery, by better methods and more efficient operation of existing plant, by a supply of power to work, and, if possible, to extend that existing plant and machinery, and coupled with that, by harmonious relations between employers and employees. All these combined will assist the country to increase production and to surmount many of the difficulties which beset it. But when we realise the present world scarcity of supplies and realise that in this country, subject to certain exceptions, we are short of many of these commodities, we must consider what steps can be taken and what steps should be taken in order to provide ourselves with essential raw materials, plant and other necessary equipment.
It is obvious that if, in the future, we are to purchase raw material for agriculture or industry from England, we shall have to compete with a very heavy demand on the supplies there, and, not merely that, but, on the basis of their present economy, we shall have to provide something in exchange, either on a barter basis or a £ for £ basis by exporting live stock, agricultural produce or whatever surplus we have from secondary industry. That being so, we must primarily concentrate on that arm of our economy which will give us the greatest possible hope of a quick expansion, the greatest possible hope of a quick return. While there are commodities derived from secondary industries of which we have an exportable surplus, by and large, our capacity to secure goods from abroad, particularly from Great Britain, depends on our ability to export to them live stock and agricultural products. If we examine the figures of our live-stock exports over the past 14 or 15 years, it must be obvious to us that we must increase our exports of live stock. The trade statistics show that, last year, we exported about 490,000 head of cattle. In 1932, we exported 675,000 head. The value last year equalled, if it did not exceed, the value of our exports for 1932, but that is no great matter for congratulation. It is merely due to the greatly appreciated prices. From the point of view of securing from Britain a return on a £ for £ basis, it renders our present trade of comparatively small benefit. We must endeavour to increase our exports and live-stock products.
During the late winter and the present spring not merely were live-stock losses severe in this country but in Great Britain the estimated losses in live stock, directly due to the weather, amounted to about £20,000,000. Indirect losses attributed to the weather were estimated at £40,000,000. These figures may be subject to considerable revision but, no matter how they may be changed, they show that the British people are facing a problem of considerable magnitude—the problem of increasing their live-stock population, which, in present circumstances, is difficult, because, like ourselves, they are increasing their tillage and endeavouring to provide themselves with a considerable proportion of their cereal requirements.
In order to rehabilitate their herds and increase their live-stock population, they must seek stock from outside. The most convenient country for that purpose, and the country where the best stock is available, is this country. We have reduced, to some extent, our live-stock population. I believe we should increase it. I think that the prices for live stock, particularly cattle, will remain high for the next few years. So long as there is a shortage in Britain, the price here is bound to remain attractive. At present, the farmers are selling as many cattle as possible and unless they are to be placed in a position in which they will not have sufficient cattle for an expanding market, we must take steps to increase our live stock.
We must endeavour, too, to increase our supplies of surplus goods from secondary industries. For a considerable time, due to the emergency, we had barely sufficient to supply our own needs. That phase may be a passing one. But a serious drawback in increasing the supply of those goods is the supply of motive power. I listened to the Minister with care, and it was interesting to learn that the Electricity Supply Board are at present generating 550,000,000 units per year. The Minister stated that, having regard to the present needs of industry and of domestic consumers, the output would need to be doubled. But it is obvious from the plans which the Electricity Supply Board have in hand and to which the Minister referred, that, by 1951, they will not have doubled the present output. They will fall slightly short of that. By 1951, many of our present problems may be overcome or, if not, we may have serious reason for believing that they should have been overcome. Having regard to the figures presented by the Electricity Supply Board, drastic steps must be taken to increase the supply of motive power for industry either by securing from abroad supplies of machinery or, alternatively, securing for existing industries adequate suplies of coal. Those industries in a position to change over to fuel oil, should get supplies of that fuel.
Attention has already been given to the changing of coal-burning equipment to oil-burning equipment. While that has been done in a number of cases, many concerns are not in a position to change over as the capital expenditure involved by such a transition would be far beyond their means. I suggest to the Government and the Minister that an effort should be made to obtain, by agreement, a quantity of coal, not merely to supply essential industries but all other industries not in a position to change from coal to oil, until such time as we are in a position to meet a larger proportion of our needs from electricity. It is obvious to most people that, if we do not reach maximum output from the water-power, peat and coal generating stations by 1951, we shall find ourselves in far more serious difficulties than we are in at present. No steps should be left untaken which can in any way increase the supply of fuel for essential industries and other industries not in a position to provide themselves with motive power locally or from electric current.
The other serious problem that confronts us has to do with the supply of dollars. Considerable attention has been paid to that problem here and in Press articles and Press comments. We have to face this situation in a realistic manner and, not merely that, we must look at our strength as well as our weakness. It is obvious that at present our weakness is in the ascendant. Assuming the free convertibility of currency on and from July next and that that supply of dollars cannot in any way meet our needs, we must look around to see what steps we should take or what agreements we should make in order to supply ourselves with a larger dollar pool.
It seems to me that there are two obvious steps. We can come to some agreement with the British, whereby they will make available to us a proportion of dollars; but in our present circumstances it does not appear a feasible proposal or that, faced with their difficulties, they will be in any position to supply us with the necessary quantity of dollars or the necessary permit to convert sterling into dollars in order to overcome our needs and meet our requirements.
On the other hand, we can approach the United States for a loan. Anyone who has read the proposals which the United States has put forward or who considers this matter can see that the policy of the American Government is against, not merely restrictions on currency but against all trade restrictions, quotas, barriers and hindrances of any kind. These proposals were put forward as far back as November, 1945. Certainly, on and from the coming into operation of the Washington Loan Agreement in December, 1945, the writing was on the wall for those who proposed to trade with America or proposed to carry on any form of commercial enterprise with either America or, in the particular circumstances, with Britain. From that date, the British Government have endeavoured, particularly through the President of the Board of Trade, to increase their exports to America or to the hard currency countries. They have, in fact, subordinated home needs entirely to the requirements of an export trade. All during that time, that particular Minister and a number of others have laid stress on the vital necessity, from the British point of view, of exporting to the hard currency countries. That being so, the position presented itself, in so far as we are concerned, that we could not get—or certainly could not get easily—supplies of many commodities from Great Britain that we needed. We are faced with the difficulty—and it should have been a matter for earlier consideration by the Government here—that we have to consider what the prospects are of getting supplies of materials, if not from Britain, from the hard currency countries. But apparently, we have let the situation develop and we have to some extent awaited the unfolding of events before we faced up to the present acute position.
We are now faced with the position that, as from the 1st July, only the amount available from current transactions will be freely convertible. The Minister stressed the fact in his speech that the amount available from current transactions from 1st July will be inadequate to meet our needs. I think it is obvious to everyone that it will be grossly inadequate and we must get money from some source to provide ourselves with raw materials. If we cannot get it from the sterling area, we must consider the possibility of and all the results which must flow from the introduction of large-scale trade with America or with the hard currency countries. One possible solution is that we should export a larger quantity of our surplus and endeavour to secure a larger surplus here so that we can export both agricultural and industrial products to England and then, on a basis of agreement with the British, get supplies of certain commodities. I think that on the White Paper and on the recent policy as adumbrated over there for agriculture and live stock, we must inevitably in the future integrate our economy with theirs. The Minister adverted to that in his speech. At the present time and with the particular policy about to be put into operation over there, they will look to this country or to any other country in a position to offer them live stock for replenishment as well as for meat for early killing or dead meat for immediate consumption.
That being so, we should endeavour —and the sooner the better—to make an agreement with the British—and, if we can, it would certainly be to our advantage to make an agreement with America—whereby we would get supplies of commodities we need either in exchange, on a £ for £ basis, or that they will agree to sell to us a certain quantity of raw materials in exchange for a certain quantity of goods that we are in a position to supply to them. The proposals in the American paper for the expansion of world trade and employment laid stress on the desirability of not merely trading with countries with which in the past they have had trade agreements but with an expansion and increase in the trading possibilities of other countries.
Whatever may be the difficulties which prevented this country trading with Britain in the past, many of them were artificial, many of them may now present the Government with a problem in the sense that they have to some extent to abandon some of their past policy or past prejudices, yet I think the same may be said in England, where they have changed their outlook in many respects and have changed their policy. They have changed their plans for external trade and, that being so, it should not in any way obstruct the Government or prevent them from meeting the British face to face and putting our case to them in as vigorous a manner as possible. Due to past disagreements or the follies of past economic policies, we may have some differences, but in present world conditions, when many past dissensions are assuming smaller proportions in the face of the difficulties that are present, I think the Government—and certainly the Minister, who appears to be the only realist in the Government— should immediately take steps to see that we come to an agreement with Britain, whereby we will get coal and any other essentials we need and they will get in exchange for that, on whatever advantageous basis it is possible to make it, supplies of livestock, agricultural produce and surplus industrial products like textiles, beer, stout and spirits.
In the past, we had a trade with America for certain commodities and that trade has in recent times expanded so far as bloodstock is concerned. What the possibilities are of expanding that trade with America I cannot say, but I think there is considerable hope of expansion in bloodstock trade. At the same time, we ought to be in a position to supply an increased demand for spirits and liquor of various kinds.
In order to supply those needs, we must have available here or be in a position to import, supplies of barely. Unless we can say from our economy that we will get, either on a barter basis or on some other quota basis or whatever basis may be agreed on, supplies of commodities we need in exchange with other countries for commodities they need, or at any rate that they are prepared to buy from us, we cannot hope to maintain our employment here and expand our economy and so absorb more people into employment. It is, of course, true that any trade proposals, such as the American Government put forward and apparently are pursuing with vigour at the Geneva Conference, will react more unfavourably on a small country like ours than they will on any of the larger countries and may react more unfavourably on secondary industries than on agriculture. Be that as it may, we must face the facts, and they are that the Americans are pushing forward such a policy, and apparently are going to succeed in getting it carried. Certainly, it would seem as if the major portion of it will be put into effect so that restrictions, quota barriers and tariffs of all kinds will be drastically reduced if not entirely eliminated.
As the Minister has said, that will place this country in a new situation. So far as many of our industries are concerned, it will place them in the position in which they will have to produce commodities in face of world competition or at a price beneath it in order to supply our needs. While in the past we could and did take steps to ensure that our own industries would be afforded protection to a greater or a smaller degree, at any rate we did to a considerable extent protect many of these secondary industries. We are faced now not only with the difficulty of protecting them but with the additional problem many of them will have in getting supplies of essential raw materials. In face of these proposals, I fear that we must have if not a complete reorientation certainly a drastic reorientation of our outlook and of our national economy here, so that we can continue in existence, in so far as it is possible for us, all the secondary industries that we have established. If many of them were to cease to produce at the present time, the result would be serious dislocation and considerable hardship from the employment point of view.
In the past many workers, and quite a large number of employers, have feared the result of an excess supply of goods. That often meant large periods of unemployment. Workers naturally feel that, if they are to have the security and stability which continuous employment gives, a shortage of goods is desirable. On the other hand, many employers feel that a shortage of goods and certain sales is preferable to a surplus of goods and uncertain sales. I am of opinion that even if lingering fears of that sort should exist in the minds of either employers or employees every effort should be made not merely to wipe out all fear of a possible surplus of supplies, but that guarantees must be given by the Government that any surplus supplies of commodities there are will find a market—that the responsibility will devolve on the Government of ensuring that, any surplus in the supply of commodities which may at present be in short supply will find a market and that a market will be secured for any supplies there are of these commodities.
It is true to say that past trading practices throughout the world probably contributed to a considerable extent to that situation. The various trade talks at present in operation are designed to eliminate these serious consequences. Certainly, so far as we here are concerned a complete return to free trade, or a complete abolition of restrictions on the supply of goods, would inevitably have serious consequences for us. I think if we are not in a position to get a supply of dollar currency to trade with America that we must endeavour to minimise the effects of that by putting into operation here policies which will make us independent, as far as possible, of outside supplies. It was never more obvious than at the present time that our independence of outside supplies is comparatively limited. The Americans may find, if they push this policy too far, that in a short time they will be supplying not merely themselves but a great part of Europe with sufficient goods. If that should happen they will then be in the position that European countries, ourselves included, will not be in a position to buy from them. We will have neither the currency nor, for that matter, the need for these commodities. The conclusion to be drawn from these proposals is that hard currency either must be made freely convertible, or that large loans must be made available to those countries which at present are not on a hard currency basis or, alternatively, that the Americans will find themselves at the end of the next three or four years with a large surfeit of goods with no takers. The demand for their goods will leave them in the position in which they will return to mass unemployment which was so characteristic of their economy before the war.
There are some other matters that I should like to refer to. The first is the problem of our domestic fuel supply for the coming year. Whatever steps have or may be taken, I think it is obvious to everybody now that we will not have sufficient turf to meet our domestic requirements, or that, if we have it will be on a rigidly controlled ration basis.
If there is one thing more than another which the Minister's Department should do, it is to put into operation an effective system of domestic fuel rationing. The system in operation during the greater part of the emergency was unsatisfactory. It was satisfactory enough as long as we had sufficient supplies of turf, even of an inferior quality, but during the past winter, when the crisis hit our larger towns and cities, the really serious thing was that many of the suppliers were not in a position to meet their commitments, and that a number of those who, through one means or another, had supplied themselves with turf, were in a position to get further supplies, while many of those who had no supplies at all were left without. I have had numerous complaints from districts where bellmen operated to the effect that, when the fuel shortage came upon us, many of those bellmen, either because it was unprofitable or too difficult for them, ceased to serve those areas. The result was that in numerous districts very large numbers of householders were, for a time, left without any supplies of turf. It is true that the very poor, who are on the machine-won turf ration or who are supplies on vouchers, obtained their fuel supplies, but there were many people who, if not on the level of the very poor were certainly very little above it, were left in the position that they could not get adequate supplies.
I therefore suggest to the Minister that, as regards next season's supply, the first thing the Department should do is to put into operation a system whereby each household will get a ration of fuel on a coupon basis rather than on the basis of being registered with a bellman or other supplier. The present system has resulted in glaring anomalies and of very severe hardship on many families. I suggest that is the first step that should be taken, especially in view of the present limited supply conditions and of the possibility that during next winter we shall have smaller stocks of turf than ever before, even assuming that we have a better winter than the past one has been.
I should also like to say a word concerning the private turf producer. The Minister has stated that as from 1948 Bord na Móna are to undertake the responsibility of providing the turf needs of the country, and that from that date the county councils will cease to have the responsibility for turf production. I think that a good case can be made for transferring that task to Bord na Móna, provided they are in a position to do it. Many county councils were not in a position to engage in this work. Even if they were in a position to do so it meant neglecting other work or at any rate limiting the attention which they gave to other work. It placed extraordinary burdens on the county councils and on the ratepayers. A body like Bord na Móna should be in a position to produce turf more cheaply than the county councils, and if there is one result more than another that is likely to follow from the transfer of the responsibility from the county councils to Bord na Móna it is that turf will be produced at a cheaper rate and the supply of turf may be greater than we have had from the county councils and the old Turf Development Board.
For the coming year the problem for many private producers, certainly in the Dublin mountains, is a difficult one. One bog there was developed and extended and provided with road facilities by Bord na Móna. Two other bogs were provided with certain roads by the Dublin County Council, but a couple of years ago the county council came to the conclusion that they had already provided sufficient facilities, certainly for their own needs. That, however, was at a time before the fuel situation had deteriorated to the present level and when we did not anticipate as great a problem as we have at the moment. I would suggest to the Minister that either the Dublin County Council or Bord na Móna should forth-with provide roads from the bog and through the bog in order to assist private producers.
Many private producers have produced turf at great inconvenience and at considerable expense and, before transport was available, hardship was involved in getting to the bog. The least we can do is to provide facilities so that when the turf is won it can be taken off the bogs. At present the roads in two or three bogs are inadequate to carry the turf that has been cut on the bogs. Considerable attention has been directed in the Press and in the House to the rapid expansion of airways and airports here. The airports here and the expansion which has taken place in our airways reflect credit on those concerned. The services show that the company and the officials here are as efficient as, if not more efficient than, any company elsewhere. That the facilities which are provided at the Dublin Airport and at Rineanna are equal if not superior to those at any airport elsewhere has been acknowledged by air companies from abroad that have availed of the airports here and that have operated services from them. The cost of these airports and these facilities has been considerable. In a small country the cost of air development must inevitably be far greater and have a far heavier effect than in a large country. However that may be, no one would suggest that we should not have developed the airways or the air facilities which we have developed and made available here.
At the present time, when air development and everything connected with it is front page news and when the attention of the world is being paid to it, it may be pertinent for us to consider to what extent we should commit ourselves to competition with large American or continental companies on the transatlantic route. As I understand it, we have now three air companies in this country. We have Aer Lingus and Aer Rianta-one of them the maintenance or control company, and the other operating services from Collinstown to London and Europe and from Collinstown to Shannon and to Europe.
These services have justified themselves and we hope in future, with improvement in world conditions, that the income from these services will repay the expenditure or at any rate will to some extent repay the heavy expenditure. But, in the last few months we have also floated a company, Aerlinte Teoranta, with a capital of £5,000,000, and we propose to engage in transatlantic services. I understand that one reason for the proposed transatlantic services is that in order to maintain the position in the airway world you must maintain prestige. Apparently, it is generally believed that prestige can be maintained and improved by operating transatlantic services. But, whether it is wise for this country to engage in transatlantic services with large American companies with practically unlimited financial resources, that are accustomed to dropping £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 here and there without feeling serious repercussions, is a matter on which we should reflect before committing ourselves to it. The fact that these large American companies consider as mere chicken feed what to us would mean heavy losses is no reason why we should engage in competition with them or why we should promote world services in order to carry on a trade which cannot pay us or cannot in any way recompense for the expenditure involved.
The development of airways and everything connected with air traffic is expensive. The fact that we have been able to operate European services and services between this country and England satisfactorily and with considerably increased prestige reflects credit on everyone, but whether or not we should embark on a transatlantic service, involving heavy commitments, in order to maintain prestige, is a matter about which I have considerable doubts. It may be that ultimately the transatlantic services will benefit not merely from passenger traffic but from freight cargoes and that with extension in trade between this country and America we would be able to avail of these services but, at the present time, when we are short of dollar currency, I cannot see how we can hope to get sufficient aeroplanes to service that particular transatlantic route without seriously interfering with our economy and without placing a heavy burden on our people.
It would be unwise, in present circumstances, to be too much swept off our feet by the glamour of a world airway service. We have to consider every possibility in regard to air development before we can come to a conclusion as to the position of Rineanna. It may be that the free airport which the Minister opened yesterday will have good results there. I hope it will. But, whether or not it will result in the maintenance of the present rate of traffic and in an increase of American traffic to Rineanna is a matter on which at present we cannot express an authoritative opinion. I should like to refer to one other matter. During the emergency a fairly considerable number of aliens came into this country. Some of them were aliens and some of them were non-nationals—so far as I am concerned it does not make a great deal of difference. Many of them engaged successfully in business here. I think that our efforts should be devoted to providing facilities for our own people and that so long as any of our own people require facilities from a State Department that no aliens should be considered. Many people view with considerable apprehension the extension of the business grip which aliens have got in this city. I would like the Minister in his concluding remarks to deal with this matter. I think that the figures which I was able to get from the Department of Justice do not accurately display the position.
The number of aliens who came in, taken in conjunction with our population or with the number of people who left this country, is not very considerable, but when we see so many of these people getting into successful lines of business in this country, very often lines of business into which our own people have not been able to get or in which they have not been successful, then I think we should seriously consider the extent to which these people have been operating here during the emergency and since the end of the war. It is a matter on which there is high feeling in the city. Country Deputies may not feel the effect of these people to the same extent, but any one living in Dublin or in the surrounding districts realises the truth of what I am saying—that there has been an alarming growth in the number of aliens in this city in recent times who have engaged in trade of one kind or another.
Finally, I would like to say that I look forward, as I think the House does, to an indication from the Minister in his concluding remarks as to the proposals which the Government have for a trade agreement either with Britain or with America. We realise, and I think the country realises, as a result of all recent discussions, recent statements, publications, articles in the Press, etc., that our position may be serious—some of these articles may exaggerate the position one way or another—but no matter what view we take of it we must come to some agreement in order to provide ourselves with the supplies of materials which we have not got and at the same time sell supplies of products, either industrial or agricultural, which we have. I urge the Minister to exert a vigorous influence on the Government, because the first people I think to whom the Minister has to bring home the present situation are the members of the Government. I think the people in general are coming to realise the seriousness of the situation, but the one group of people which does not appear to realise the gravity of the present position is the Government. It is a matter of some satisfaction if one Minister realises it, but the responsibility devolves on him to bring it home to his colleagues and to the country.
I believe that the Dáil would sanction any proposals to trade on an amicable and sound economic basis with any country. Whatever past differences or problems may have presented themselves to us, in the present world condition and in the present position in which many countries find themselves, our whole aim and efforts should be devoted towards an extension of our trade not merely at home but with any countries that are prepared to trade with us.