This Quota Order deals with boots and shoes. There are a number of suggestions which I should like to put forward for the consideration of the Minister in the administration of this particular Order in the coming year. There are also some criticisms I should like to make, some of which are based on my own experience and a large number of which have been put to me by persons who are interested in the import of boots and shoes. I am not opposing the Quota Order in any way but I do want to make suggestions, some of which I think would apply to other Orders and all of which would reasonably apply to this Order and, to some extent, to the next Order which also deals with a different class of boots and shoes. The first criticism that I should like to make is that when a Quota Order is issued towards the end of the year, certainly in the second half of the year, it is not necessary to insist upon basing the quotas given to the various importers on the imports for one year up to December 31st. It would be much fairer, I think, to take a more convenient date, such as the end of the month prior to the Order itself or perhaps six weeks before the Order. If the Order is to be fair in its application, it should deal with the actual requirements for the period up to, as near as possible, the date of the Quota Order. Where any firm has made special arrangements or extended its business it might find itself definitely crippled by the fact that you go back almost a year in order to obtain the basis. I put that forward for the consideration of the Minister. There is no reason why you should go back to the 31st December of a certain year except perhaps that the Department had a number of forms with that date printed on them. It is a definite drawback to the importers.
I should also like to ask the Minister in connection with this Order whether quotas for the coming year—I know that we are now in the Second Quota period—are going to be based on the 1933 figures, as the first portion has been, or whether the Department is going to ask for information regarding imports during 1934. Then again the information required in the first instance failed entirely to take into consideration the position of firms who were importing less in 1933 by reason of the fact that they had increased their trade with Irish manufacturers. The first quotas were based, as I understand it—the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—on the imports of the particular importer during 1933, so that a man who during 1933 failed to buy any Irish manufactures was actually placed in a better position by getting a larger quota in the first instance than the person who had bought a certain proportion of Irish-manufactured goods. I think that was a point that was probably overlooked by the Minister. I think that is not fair nor do I think it is desirable. I know of one firm, not my own, which specialised in Irish-manufactured goods and which had gone very near the correct figures. The Minister will know the figures, but let us assume for the sake of argument that they are fifty-fifty. I think that a firm or a person who bought 50 per cent. of his stock of boots and shoes in Ireland and who had of his own free-will or through a spirit of patriotism, achieved that position, before the quota order was made, should be left to enjoy that position and should not be placed in a position under which he is only allowed to import 25 per cent. of his requirements whereas the person who imported all his requirements previously is allowed to get 50 per cent. That, of course, is a problematical case but it goes to prove my point.
I am not suggesting that there were many firms who had reached that fifty-fifty basis but I do suggest that according to the nature of the business done, the percentage of Irish goods purchased in some cases would be very considerable. I should say that in the case of firms who stock only men's boots and shoes a very large proportion of their stock would be purchased in Ireland, while the firm trading in ladies' or children's boots and shoes would require to import a much larger percentage. I am possibly taking the two extremes. I do not say that the Minister should take into consideration the fluctuations of the trade in this way in every case, but I am showing, at the same time, that a certain amount of injustice does arise and that you must go as far as you can to meet it. I think it is beyond doubt that firms dealing in the cheaper class trade in ladies' and children's boots and shoes can get a much smaller proportion of their requirements in Ireland than those who deal in the better class. In the case of men's boots, I understand that it is possible for a firm to get these boots and shoes in Ireland if there is a sufficient output from the factories. Almost every kind is being made here. There are certain special types such as surgical shoes and the narrow fittings which are not yet produced here, but there is a substantial production of ordinary boots and shoes. In the case, however, of the cheaper classes of ladies' boots and shoes, worn by the working classes, the percentage made here is exceedingly small.
A little later, a request came to importers of boots and shoes to state the extent of their Irish manufactured trade. I do not know what the general experience was. My own experience was that the percentage for the previous year would not have been nearly as good as for the later year because it was increasingly easy to buy Irish-manufactured goods. The percentage was from 20 to 25 and the net result of sending in particulars of Irish-manufactured goods was that one got a quota for 11 additional pairs, or 22 singles, to adopt the term used by the Department. That arrived ten days before the end of the quota period. As the quota covered only 11 pairs, it did not really matter but if it had been for any substantial amount, it could not have been made use of so far as any manufacturer was concerned. I am still puzzled as to why the Department insists on dealing in singles. I can assure them, from a fairly long experience, that nobody buys a single shoe in a retail shop. Even the few people who have wooden legs buy a pair of shoes. For some reason I have not been able to fathom, the first licences were sent out in singles. Quite a number of people quite genuinely believed that pairs were intended. Others decided that they would not trouble about the matter and would take the licence as referring to pairs. Other innocent persons, like myself, rang up the Department and were told that the licence referred to singles and that if the number were divided by two, it would give the number of pairs which could be imported. My mathematics were equal to that and, consequently, I did not make any mistake as to the number ordered by my firm. But a number of other people did make a mistake. Fifteen or 20 smaller people in the country came to me to know what they could do about the matter. I assured them that they could not get a more sympathetic staff than that at Lord Edward Street. I can pay that compliment to them. That was my own experience. How they kept their tempers and received people as courteously as they did under the conditions under which they had to deal with these quota orders, I do not know. Nothing I say here is by way of criticism of that staff. Although a lot of people have come to me, I have heard no criticism of the staff in connection with these quota orders. Some of these people came back to me and said they had been treated quite fairly, as they had made a bona fide mistake. They were allowed to get double the quantity in during the preliminary period. If that be true —some people told me it was so—I suggest to the Minister that, to be fair all round, he should have increased the quantity by the requisite amount and extended the right to others. However, that is not a very big point and I am not going to debate it at any length.
I should like to ask the Minister whether, after experience of the first quota period or second quota period, it would not be possible to issue the licence about a month before the commencement of the new period. The total quota for the new period is announced some considerable time— about a month, I think—before the new quota period. If that announcement could be made a little earlier and if the allotments could be issued two or three weeks before the period, it would be a great convenience to many firms. The principal reason for that is that the medium-sized firm, which has been in the past able to buy direct from English manufacturers, cannot get delivery at very short notice. It lessens the time very considerably, when the quota period is only three months, if you do not get, as is the case at present, the quota licence until the first day of the new period. There may be administrative difficulty in making the change. I can understand that the difficulty would be serious in the first quota period but, as the quota gets established and the register is prepared, it should be possible to issue the licences three or four weeks before the period. This suggestion has been put to me by several people who asked me to mention it here as a thing which would be of very definite advantage to them. I think I am correct in saying that the Minister allots, under the Act, 75 per cent. of the quota set out. Where it is decided to allot the remaining 25 per cent., the benefit is very much reduced if that allotment arrives only at the end of the quota period. In the case of boots and shoes, quite a number of firms had so much on order that the allotment was useful to them at any time. They had only to send a telegram in order to get the boots sent on. That will not operate during the coming year. What is likely to happen is that firms who have been buying from manufacturers direct and who have, accordingly, been able to give the public better value will, owing to the shortness of the notice, be obliged to buy from English warehouses. That would be a great mistake and the public would suffer because the value would not be as good as if the stocks were bought direct from the manufacturer. A trader cannot do a regular trade within the quota unless he is given time and can give an order for reasonable quantities.
That brings me to another point on which, I suppose, the Minister will not agree with me. I ask him to make the quota for six months in the case of boots and shoes. According to their class of trade, certain wholesalers would probably prefer to take the bulk of their requirements in the earlier part of the year, but the retailers who buy direct would buy most largely during the second three months. Probably the Minister will say that the imports for each period of three months during the year are much the same. So far as individual firms are concerned, that is not the case. The wholesaler who must do his distribution at the buying period—at the end of March and the beginning of April —must have his stock in during the earlier part of the year. The trader who is buying direct will take his stock at the later period. The present system operates against the middle-sized man, who has either to do without his share of the quota or find capital to get a quarter of his year's supply in the first three months, when he does not really need it. The most serious difficulty is that of buying in sufficiently large quantities to be able to buy from the best manufacturers. If one buys in small quantities and is confined to two or three manufacturers, one does not get the best value. When one is buying in large quantities, one can get a cut price. The manufacturer will rarely refuse to reduce the price if the order is a large one. It is, therefore, not only in the interests of importers but in the interests of the public that people here should be in a position to place sufficiently large orders to obtain these prices. I should like to urge on the Minister that he should work out some scheme which would take into consideration the Irish purchases in the particular year and by which the quota would be based on the total figure and not solely on imports.