I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The main purpose of this Bill is to raise the limits of the Grant-in-Aid to the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards from the present level of £15,000 per year to a maximum of £35,000 per year. It is necessary to make provision for a large annual grant because the institute cannot effectively discharge its functions within the limits of the present grant.
The Industrial Research and Standards Act of 1946 established the institute with the primary functions of undertaking and carrying out scientific research, and of formulating specifications for commodities, processes and practices. As the House is probably aware, the institute consists of a council, the Industrial Research Committee, the Standards Committee and the director. The functions of the council are mainly advisory. The Industrial Research Committee are responsible for deciding what research work will be undertaken and responsible also for the general administration of the whole institute. The Standards Committee formulates standard specifications and, as the law stands at present, these are ultimately brought into operation by ministerial Order. The primary duties of the director are to direct and supervise the conduct of both the research and standards work of the institute. The institute, at present, is financed by this fixed statutory grant of £15,000. It may, under the legislation, and has, in fact, received grants towards defraying the capital cost of land, buildings and equipment. The Act provides also for grants for special investigations at the request of the Minister, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance, but, in fact, no such grants have been made. The Act also contemplates the institute charging fees for researches, tests and analyses carried out for private firms, but the revenue accruing to it under that head has not, as yet, proved very substantial. In practice, the institute is dependent almost entirely on the annual State grant of £15,000 to cover working costs.
The institute developed rather gradually. At first, it had to acquire suitable office accommodation and laboratory premises and build up a skilled staff, purchase a large amount of technical equipment and a satisfactory reference library. The premises were secured in Glasnevin House and the laboratories were erected there. The cost of Glasnevin House was approximately £9,000; the laboratories cost £27,000 to erect; and the equipment and reference library cost about £15,000, making a total of about £51,000 which was given by way of special grants under the appropriate section of the 1946 Act for these capital purposes. While these facilities were being provided, the institute was not spending the whole of the fixed annual grant of £15,000 per year. In the earlier years of its operations, that grant was more than enough to meet its outgoings and the result was that, over a period of time, the institute accumulated a reserve of about £29,000, representing the unspent balances of annual grants. In the past few years, however, the expenditure of the institute has been running above the level of the annual grant and that excess spending has been met out of the accumulated reserve which had been reduced to about £27,000 on 31st March last.
Since it was set up in 1946, the institute has had to some extent to avoid attracting work with which it was not equipped to cope. The institute, however, has carried out some very useful research projects and Deputies will have seen in this evening's newspapers a report of the operation of a machine developed in the institute for the cleaning and grading of carrageen moss. They have carried out a number of important investigations mainly on their own initiative in matters which were of particular concern and some at the specific request of the Minister for Industry and Commerce.
A good deal of progress has been made in the field of standards. At present, standard specifications for commodities are formulated by the committee of the institute and are declared by the Minister to be standard specifications under the Act. I should like to say that, in formulating the standard specifications, the committee have always had the full co-operation of Irish manufacturers and are greatly indebted to the technical men in industry for their assistance in drafting specifications. There has been a very useful combination of effort in that field. The advisory committees which were set up to help in the formulation of specifications almost invariably invite technologists from the industries interested in the investigations, either as manufacturers or users.
Up to date, standard specification Orders have been made in respect of 54 commodities. There are six more standard specification Orders about to be made and work is proceeding on specifications for about 20 further commodities. The Standards Committee has before it requests from me for the formulation of specifications for a further 60 commodities upon which work has not yet started.
Reference to the standard specification Orders brings in the question of the standard mark. Up to date, standard marks have been prescribed for 46 of the commodities for which standard specification Orders have been made. For some time past, I have been endeavouring to encourage manufacturers of goods for which there are standard specifications to produce their goods in conformity with the specifications and to use the standard mark. I must say, however, that the results have been rather disappointing. So far, only 68 applications for licences to use the standard mark have been received and granted.
I have had under consideration the further steps that might be taken to popularise the use of the standard mark. I have stated publicly on more than one occasion that decisions upon applications for the amendment of tariffs or for other concessions by firms or associations of firms interested in goods for which there is a standard specification will be influenced by the extent to which the applicants are making the goods to the specification and using the standard mark as proof of the fact that they are so doing. I have also arranged that, for an experimental period of one year, Government Departments will in appropriate cases ask firms tendering for the supply of goods whether the goods they propose to supply would bear the standard mark and a similar arrangement is under consideration in relation to purchases made by State-sponsored bodies. That arrangement will be reviewed at the end of the year in the light of its effectiveness when decisions may be made as to what further measures may be required.
For some time past, the institute has had under consideration an extension of its activities in the field of research, as well as in the field of standards, and has been planning an extension of its organisation which would involve it in annual expenditure considerably in excess of the present statutory provision of £15,000. The institute is anxious to adopt a more aggressive policy in relation to industrial research and plans to have some of the scientists and engineers in its service go out and canvass manufacturers in their factories, to act as field men who will report back to the institute on the problems they may uncover and help the institute to set about seeking solutions of these problems.
The institute is the official technical information centre for this country under O.E.E.C. and it obtains a great deal of useful information from that body and also from the Office of Technical Services of the United States Department of Commerce. That information, however, has not been disseminated amongst manufacturers who should be interested in it as adequately as would have been desirable, and a further part of the institute's plans involves the distribution of that information, both information already accumulated and information which may come to hand in future, to industrialists and other interested persons and organisations on a much wider and more intensive scale.
The application of scientific methods to the problems of industry is dependent to a great extent on the co-operation which the industrialist is prepared to give in bringing specific problems to the institute and adopting the suggestions which the institute may make for their solution. Industrial firms which employ trained scientists and engineers are in a much stronger position to apply the results of scientific discoveries made elsewhere.
On the standards side, I have said that the institute has at present a list of 60 commodities in respect of which specifications are desired but on which work has not yet started. That list will, no doubt, be added to and, furthermore, it is desirable that the institute should keep under constant review developments in manufacturing processes and improvements in the methods of testing the quality of goods or the performance of apparatus with a view to making such revisions of the specifications already published as may be found to be desirable. During the past few years the rate of production of specifications has been six to eight per year. That output is too low. The output of Irish standards is very small by comparison with the work of the standards organisations of other small European countries. The institute, therefore, proposes to provide more staff for standards work with a view to keeping up to date the work of revising the specifications which have already been published and to increasing the rate of output of new specifications to something approaching twice the present rate.
Industrial research and the formulation of standard specifications are essential to the development of a sound industrial organisation within the protection afforded by tariffs and import quotas. The extension of the activities of the institute is an integral part of the whole campaign to raise the all-round efficiency of Irish industry. I have on many occasions recently spoken on the importance of that campaign to raise the level of efficiency in Irish industry and the reduction of its production costs. I hold strongly to the view that getting industrial costs down is now a matter of vital importance if industrial employment is to be maintained and if further industrial development is to be achieved. In any case where costs are too high at present or where costs are tending to rise unduly, action will have to be taken to rectify that position, and I should, I think, make it clear that action will not stop short of reducing or withdrawing protection where no other measure seems likely to be effective. Most of us, however, will agree that it is far preferable to endeavour to deal with the situation in industry by getting increased efficiency and higher output, and the Institute of Industrial Research can make a useful contribution to that end with the co-operation of Irish industrialists. The institute can play a much more effective part than it has been able to play up to the present in solving the many problems relating to production and manufacturing techniques. With regard to standard specifications it will be, I think, generally desired that those specifications should be prepared for as many commodities as possible, and particularly for commodities which are manufactured here under protection.
I would also like to see the institute in a position to undertake work on the testing of commodities on a larger scale than has been possible up to the present. The testing of commodities is of dual importance. It is useful in the preparation of standard specifications and in the solution of the technical problems of industry. It is also of importance in protecting the purchasing public against the sale of inferior goods. At the last annual meeting of the council of the institute which I was invited to address I expressed the desire that the institute should undertake more testing work on goods for which there are standard specifications with a view to seeing whether these goods are manufactured in conformity with the specifications; and I urged that the institute should consider publishing the results of those tests so that the consumer may be in a position to judge for himself whether he is getting value for his money.
Coming on to the specific matter of finance, I have explained that the institute has accumulated a reserve fund of £27,000. Notwithstanding the fact that the enactment of this Bill will not involve any contribution from the Exchequer in the immediate future in excess of the £15,000 a year which has been allocated to the institute previously, notwithstanding that with this reserve fund the institute could have of its own initiative enlarged its expenditure, I felt myself precluded from sanctioning proposals which involved continuing commitments which would bring the expenditure of the institute permanently above the £15,000 a year level without first obtaining the approval of the Oireachtas by the introduction of a Bill of this kind. The situation in future will be somewhat different from what it has been in the past. In the past the institute got £15,000 a year automatically under the provisions of the legislation. In future moneys will be paid out to the institute as they are voted by the Dáil to a maximum of £35,000 in any one year. In other words, there now will be, instead of a fixed annual contribution, a grant of an amount determined on the basis of an estimate of expenditure to be incurred in the financial year, an estimate which will be prepared and submitted to the Minister for Industry and Commerce by the Industrial Research Committee of the institute.