I have no apology to offer, and no hesitancy whatever in supporting the others who believe that the request of the Prime Minister, that this Bill and the other Bills to implement the Agreements should be passed through this House, and as speedily as possible, should be acceded to. There are so many aspects of this Agreement, and its possible effects on this country and on individuals, that the temptation to make an exceedingly long speech is probably great for every one of us who intends to speak. I do not propose to deal to any extent with many of the aspects in which I am particularly interested, but I was impressed by the fact that the British Prime Minister, Mr. Chamberlain, said that he expected more from what was not written actually in the Agreements than from anything that was written into them. I am inclined to think that if we examine the position we will find that the same thing applies to us. Now, to my mind, any agreement—even if there had been more in it that I could find fault with than there is in this—which would enable the present Prime Minister to say that he was satisfied that it removed from the field of dispute between Great Britain and ourselves all major issues except Partition, and knowing the extent to which his word, given solemnly as it was then, will be accepted, marks an enormous advance in our position in this country and that it will also have a profound effect on the one subject, namely, Partition, which was not dealt with and could not be settled now. I would like to say a word about that later.
I assume that while there may be minor difficulties which can, in the friendly spirit that can now be created, be removed, it will now be possible for this State to co-operate in a friendly way with the British Commonwealth of Nations, take part in its deliberations and assist it as an associate with that Commonwealth. I believe that one of the greatest things that can come from the Agreement is that our major Parties—and I do not place importance on agreements between Parties—will be able to view the constitutional position of the State from the same standpoint and, therefore, we can have continuity in our external relations with Great Britain, with the Commonwealth and with other nations, which I believe is of the greatest possible importance. As to the first part of the Agreement, I was a little puzzled by one reference of the Prime Minister to it, because I had carefully read his speeches in the Dáil, in which he assured us that the Agreements must be taken together, and I rather thought to-day that he seemed to think the Trade Agreement might be regarded as something separate. At any rate, I am taking it as one Agreement, because I doubt very much if any one part of it could have been made without the other parts.
I am not one who ever placed, probably because of my bringing up, the same importance on ports and defences as others, and, consequently, I am quite content it should be as it is now, and I was not unduly worried before. The first part of the Agreement, I understand, leaves us in the same position as any other independent nation associated with the Commonwealth; that is, that we can spend money or not on defences as we think fit, and we can make agreements with Great Britain or not as we think wise or fit; that we will not spend more on defence than we can properly afford. I could see a danger, particularly in the present world, that we would foolishly attempt to spend so much money in defence against a possible occasion without realising that alone it is quite impossible for a small country of this kind so to defend itself against every combination that you can conceive of, and I was glad that Senator Mulcahy took that line.
I do not know how far this will prove to be of great financial value. If we are wise and if we do not consider that we have to spend millions per year on armaments, not as part of the Agreement but as a result of the situation following it, then it may be of considerable financial benefit. It could easily be that it would lead to expenditure which would mean that, as far as the average person is concerned, he would feel very little, if any benefit at all, and if—I do not think I should expect it to-morrow, though I hope it will occur—in a short and a reasonable time this Agreement does not lead to some reduction in taxation and in the cost of living generally, then I think you will find it difficult to persuade the ordinary citizen that it is only as good as it was made out to be.
I am not competent to speak for agriculture. I am not competent to criticise or to agree with Senator Baxter and, even though we accept everything he says, I think there can be no question as to the value of the Agreement to the agricultural part of this community. I happened, a few weeks ago, to turn up some volumes of the last Seanad to look up a reference and I found myself reading some speeches made a few years ago, some by Senator Quirke and some by others of my friends, and I was so fascinated reading them that I went on—and I am not going to quote them. When I realised that these Senators would support this Agreement enthusiastically, I felt profoundly thankful that we could have a change in the position and support for an Agreement as satisfactory as this.
I do not think there is anything whatever to be gained by discussing what might have been done three years ago, who was responsible for particular actions, or all the other matters relating to the last ten or 12 years. I can conceive a discussion in this House lasting a week and I do not believe there would be one single person, even those without Party affiliations, who would change their minds at the end of it. Therefore, I can see no gain, but I can see a great deal of loss in that, and I was personally pleased at the way in which this debate was dealt with by Senator Mulcahy, whom we might regard as speaking for the official Opposition in this House.
It has been suggested that, because you are in favour in general terms of an agreement, particularly an international agreement, it is a mistake to criticise it. I disagree. I believe it is wise to criticise the details of an agreement of this kind. I further believe that it does not weaken the position of the Government, but rather strengthens them when they have to make further agreements if there is a frank expression of certain disagreement with particular details. But such criticism has to be made in the frank recognition, as the Prime Minister said, that when two nations or two people get together and make an agreement neither gets all he or it wants.
Now, there is one section of this Agreement that I definitely dislike, and I particularly dislike its phraseology. That is Article 8. I do not object to the principle which is to underlie our tariffs in future, as provided in that Article. I recognise that it would be almost impossible to make a trade agreement without having some such principle provided. In any case, it has been my opinion for some time that if the agricultural community in this country were to depend mainly on Great Britain for the sale of their produce, that it would be quite impracticable for industrialists to maintain prices for goods which had to be supplied to the farmer at a level substantially higher than was in vogue in Great Britain, the country in which the farmer had to sell his produce at a price which would pay him. I, therefore, do not want to be taken as holding the opinion that the Agreement could have been fundamentally different as far as the general basis on which tariffs on British goods could be maintained in this country is concerned. I do feel, however, that the wording of this Agreement is inconsistent with the independence of the country and, in the same manner, with the independence of Canada and Australia, who signed somewhat similar agreements. This is an international Agreement. It is quite right, to my mind, for us to agree to revise or alter our tariffs according to these principles on which revision is to take place, but when I read Article 8 I find that in this Agreement we have had to go further. We had to say the internal method that we would adopt for doing it. That, I think, is objectionable, and the fact that there is something similar in Canada or Australia, or the fact that I believe in association with our membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations, does not alter the fact that I hope that, in future agreements, that method will not be adopted, and that if a Government, with the support of Parliament, agree to carry out a certain line of policy, their word should be good enough that they will do it, without having to put in the Agreement that they will do it and the internal method by which they will do it. In this Article, we agree to act on the recommendation of a commission, the members of which have been appointed for a definite term and cannot be removed, within the term for which they have been appointed, except for very special reasons which are not likely to arise.
Now, as I examine this Article and compare it with the Agreements at Ottawa, I find a certain amount of similarity, but I also find certain differences. I notice, for instance, that no such provision occurs at all in the Agreement of Great Britain with South Africa, but that it does occur, in almost similar terms, in the Agreement with New Zealand, and, with a certain difference to which I shall draw attention, in the case of Canada and Australia. We find that in Article 8 of this Agreement it is stated that tariffs will be adjusted where necessary to give effect to the recommendations of the Prices Commission. When we turn to Canada and Australia, we find that the report of the Tariff Commission—the Tariff Board they call it, I think—will be placed before Parliament and Parliament will be invited to vary the tariffs in accordance with the report of the commission. To my mind, that is a much preferable method, and, not only more democratic, but one which maintains the supremacy of Parliament. I know that it can be said that there is not an awful lot of difference in the result and that a Government will have to command the support of the Dáil or Parliament. Nevertheless, I suggest that that method is preferable to the one adopted here, and I suggest that this form of Agreement that we have here is one that, between the Nations of the Commonwealth, might very well take a different form in the future. As this State was, in previous conferences, the leader in the removal of forms and phrases which were antiquated and not fully consistent with independence, I confess that I was disappointed when I found this wording here in this Agreement, even though the substance of it might, quite properly, have been included in the Agreement.
When I come to Section 2 of Article 8, I find myself in still more objection. We find there that, in regard to any new duties which may be imposed by the Government after the date of the Agreement, a similar procedure shall be followed at the request of the Government of the United Kingdom; that is, that they shall be sent before the Prices Commission. Now, the Government that is to impose these tariffs and that has agreed to the principle in Article 8, presumably, will honourably carry that out and impose the tariffs within the terms of Article 8, which are fairly wide; and to say that the Government which, after all, is responsible to Parliament, shall, at the request of the British Parliament submit its own actions—made after this Agreement and not before it—to a body or commission of three non-elected persons, seems to me to be undesirable. It means, in effect, inviting the commission to approve or disapprove of Government action. While I look upon this more as a student concerned with the development of affairs inside or in connection with the British Commonwealth of Nations, nevertheless I believe that it is right that, in Parliament, one should criticise these things frankly, although possibly no one else will agree with me or consider that these are matters of very great importance.
With regard to the more practical side of this Agreement, Article 8 is causing a great deal of uneasiness, and a very great deal of dislocation in trade. I do not know how that can be remedied, but I think that the Department of Industry and Commerce do appreciate some of the difficulties. Most, if not all, of the tariffs will at some future date be revised by the Prices Commission. That revision, when it takes place, must provide for the abolition of quantitative regulation and the introduction of a new tariff to take the place of the present tariff, plus the quota. Now, I speak with a fair amount of knowledge of one aspect, at any rate, of manufacture, and I say that there is nothing more disconcerting and more likely to injure efficient production than what is known as hand-to-mouth buying. If a manufacturer is faced with the position that the buyers in the country will only buy a fortnight's or a month's supply at a time, because they do not know when a possible change will take place—in some cases there may be no change, or there may even be higher tariffs as a result of investigation—while there is this uncertainty, you are unfortunately up against that hand-to-mouth buying, and up against that fearfulness of something which generally looks much worse when it is ahead than when it actually arrives. I hold that, as soon as the request is received—I think it is under Article 12 —it should be possible for the Government to issue a list at the earliest possible date announcing the commodities which will first come under review by the Prices Commission, the order in which they will be taken, and the approximate date. I admit that, in connection with the particular commodities that would be taken first, the gain would not be very much, but it would be a great help for those industries which would not be taken among the first, and it would enable trade to go on without fear and without this hand-to-mouth buying. That kind of hand-to-mouth buying is bad for the manufacturer, and it is definitely bad for the workers, because it injures the workers through short time and insufficient work. At any rate, I think it is one of these things which might be very carefully considered.
In dealing with the general trade position as a result of this Agreement, I do not want to say very much. I am a member of the Council of the Federation of Irish Manufacturers. They have been represented in the Press as being in a panic and in a desperate state of mind, and there have been all kinds of suggestions that they think they are going to collapse. I should like to say here, in the hope that it will get publicity, that since this Agreement became public I have met a very large number of the members of that federation, and I have not met a single one who, if he were in this House, would not vote for that Agreement. Now, that does not mean that there is not a certain amount of perfectly genuine uneasiness, but if you think that, because of the kind of public jibe which is common against the Irish manufacturer, to the effect that he is a backyard man, that he is incompetent, and that his only object is to make large profits under tariffs, no matter what the actual cost to him is —if you think that Irish industries are going to collapse and put up no fight, even if this Agreement does hurt them in certain respects, I would say definitely that the Irish industrialists of this country are not going to close down in a hurry and are not going to stop trying to serve the public. I think that they should be regarded with a certain amount of sympathy because, while this Agreement was being considered, they had a long period of bad trade and uncertainty, and now for many of them, there is to be another period—how long it will be, I do not know—of uncertainty.
From the various statements which have been made in the Dáil and elsewhere, I think I understand pretty well the effects of this Agreement, and I have not got a large number of questions to ask the Prime Minister. One thing, however, about which I am not very clear is this. It seems to me that it is possible for goods, under Schedule 5, Parts I and II, to come before the Prices Commission, but as far as Part I is concerned a reduction has already taken place—in some cases a very substantial reduction—and I take it that we may assume that, as far as Part I is concerned, they are not at all likely to come before the Prices Commission at an early date, as, if they were, it would have been absurd to have dealt with them in London. I had intended to say what I thought about the speech of the Minister for Industry and Commerce where he said, "We won the economic war," but now all I have to say is that I agree entirely with what Senator MacDermot said with regard to that statement. Now, the Minister for Industry and Commerce adopted two attitudes with regard to this Agreement. Some of the Articles in it, he said frankly, would not have been there if he could have helped it, but that they had to make an Agreement. Well, when he says that, for my part I have no criticism to make. I recognise that an Agreement was desirable and there is nothing more unsatisfactory than to go whining and crying because a particular thing, that had to be done, specifically affects you. If he said that the reductions had to be made in order to get the Agreement, I would not criticise. On the other hand, however, in his speech with regard to Schedule 5, Part I, he does not say that. He says that the new rates were all very carefully considered and that they had good reason to believe that there would be adequate protection. Might I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that on one of those articles which he so describes a duty of 40 per cent. was fixed on December 8th last, and that in this Agreement it is reduced to 20 per cent., after very careful consideration, as he says, and being satisfied that there was adequate protection? Now, I am interested in that industry and if, as I believed was the case when I saw the Agreement, that was one of those things that had to be done, I would have nothing to say, but when I find that that is not the attitude of the Minister, I am inclined to criticise him definitely by saying that he did not give adequate protection.
I am satisfied that if our industries are to be maintained and not hurt under this Agreement—after all, this Agreement does change the whole position in spite of certain speeches— it means that the future protection will be in general terms, according to the principle laid down in Article 8, except for a time for industries not fully established, whereas previous to this Agreement industrialists were under the impression that the policy was one part of a policy of self-sufficiency. The two points of view are totally different. I have said before that I think that on the whole the new one is the best and wisest for industries in the future, but in the transition period they will have to be carefully watched. Under some of the particular clauses which, I am glad to see, were provided here, notably Article 10 (2) and Article 14, I think, the position will have to be watched continually, and not left over for three or six months to see that a situation does not arise which would be almost irremediable.
There is one thing, speaking in general terms, that I would like to draw the attention of the Government to, and it is this: that if our industries here could be managed so that they could obtain a certain amount of export trade in the British market it would, I think, be the best and the most effective method of counteracting the loss of trade which pretty well must come under this Agreement, if it means anything, and if Britain considers that it was a success. I do not see why that should not be possible, but if it is to be possible either of two things will have to happen. Either the essential costs of production, which include wages, and a great many other costs, will have to be reduced. I should like to say that wages are by no means the greatest increase of the costs of production that we are facing here. But either the essential costs of production will have to be reduced, or there will have to be something like a margin for such portion of the goods as are intended and suitable for an export trade; either that, or the Government may have to consider whether something in the way of a bounty for a certain percentage of the trade would not be good policy. Shall I put it this way: tariffs are being reduced in certain industries. That should mean that more British goods will come in here. It may mean that with more goods coming in here, particularly in the case of the industries which are almost a closed market at the moment, the actual yield on the lower tariffs for that particular class of goods may be higher. Would it not be possible to earmark the difference of such increased yield to be applied to assist industry to get into the British market.
One of the industries of which I have some fair knowledge is the linen industry. Prior to 1932 the linen industry in the Twenty-Six Counties competed with the linen industry in Scotland and in the North of Ireland freely in the British market, and got a fair share of its trade. We know what happened in the economic war. I do not want to go back on that. The British market was, to a large extent, lost. Now the position is that, whereas in 1932 the wages paid here and most other costs were the same as in the Six Counties, now there has been a sufficient increase in the cost of production as to make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible without some assistance, to get back that trade again. I would much prefer to see the linen industries in the North getting a share of their trade here, rather than to see them getting the whole of the export trade and keeping it for themselves. I think it would be well if some of us had been consulted beforehand on this matter. We might have had some suggestions to make on these lines. At any rate, I think that if you are going to meet the situation, it is a good thing for the country and for the industries if attention is specifically drawn toward the possibility of an export trade.
There is one other matter that I would like to refer to, partly because my attitude is perhaps a little different from that of some other members of the House, though I confess that, to a certain extent, Senator MacDermot expressed my views. What I refer to is the problem of Partition. To my mind the whole Agreement should be accepted as a very welcome and, on the whole, satisfactory ending to an unfortunate and unhappy period and we should endeavour to start afresh: that for the future differences of opinion between the Parties should be on the various issues, whatever they may be, rather than differences of opinion as to what happened in the past. If there is one subject on which, to my mind, we need to make an entirely new approach it is on that of Partition. Probably no one here would deny or doubt the responsibility that Britain has for the present situation, but I suggest that it is just as much good talking about who is to blame for Partition as it would be to talk about who started the civil war, or indeed who started any war at any time. By going along that line you would get absolutely nowhere. The first thing to my mind, if we are to deal effectively with Partition, is that there should be agreement amongst all the Parties to have it removed entirely from Party politics, and that any politician would consider itinfra dig. to try to make a Party point out of the question of Partition. To my mind you have got to accept it, whether you like it or not, that Partition cannot be ended without the consent of the majority in the Six Counties.
My business takes me to Belfast several times in the year. I meet there business acquaintances in trade. They are, if I may say so, non-political Unionists. They have the view of Unionists who are not very much interested in Party politics, but they are all under the suspicion that if we could by any trick, either through England or some other way, coerce them against their will into an united Ireland, that we would do it. I believe that a good deal of the apparently increased determination to maintain Partition is due to that suspicion. If it were acknowledged as the open policy of the Parties here, the Party who form the Government to-day or the Party who may form the Government in the near future, that they do not want and that they do not believe it is possible to achieve the ending of Partition by coercion— if that was finally and definitely believed by the majority in the North as it would come to be in time—then, I think, you would have a changed position.
At the present moment it is very difficult indeed for independent-minded people in the Six Counties to express themselves freely. There is plenty of goodwill on this side of the Border towards the majority in the Six Counties. I know that there is also plenty of goodwill, far more than we realise here, inside the Six Counties towards this part of Ireland. The speech of the Minister for Finance, read to the House by Senator MacDermot, shows one what an Ulsterman can say when he is in a wise, a sane and conciliatory mood. Some of his other speeches show the contrary. He, probably more than anyone, knows that the kind of speeches which he sometimes makes, and which he has regretted, are made by the leaders of the majority in the Six Counties. I want to suggest that they are just as capable of making the same kind of conciliatory speech that we had read to us here to-day: that goodwill does exist, but that you cannot see it, because there is definite mistrust and suspicion.
I believe that the second step towards creating a situation which would make Partition impossible would be a frank, open and definite attitude on the part of the two major Parties towards the British Commonwealth. As long as it is thought that if you once got the Six Counties in here they would find themselves forced against their will outside the British Commonwealth so long will you find it exceedingly difficult to get them to come in. I met at the show a business friend of mine whom I know to be a Unionist in politics. We discussed the Agreement which had just been made. He told me that during the last five or six years opinion had been hardening in favour of Partition, but he said—the Prime Minister will forgive me for putting it this way—"Look at the way de Valera is behaving." He said: "Look at the way he sat on Deputy Corry. If that goes on for a few years we will begin to see the whole position." My friend does not know Deputy Corry as well as we do, but he was definitely impressed by the way that he was repudiated by the Prime Minister. My view is that in a short time you could change the situation by a frank and open policy, but if we are going to have a number of minor difficulties with regard to the Commonwealth, then I fear there is going to be more uneasiness in the North.
There is another matter. If we know that we are not going to attempt any coercion, why would it not be possible for the Prime Minister at some not very far distant date to have conversations with Lord Craigavon, not to discuss Partition because that would be useless, but to discuss what could be done to co-operate under present circumstances? I think a good deal could be done, and I am sufficient of an optimist to believe that if that could be brought about we would find the Prime Minister speaking in just as high terms of Lord Craigavon as he did of Mr. Chamberlain, and that while nothing might have been achieved on paper affecting the position of Partition, I think that a great deal of what Mr. Chamberlain described as "intangible benefits" would have been achieved. There is another suggestion, and I have discussed this with Ulster people. They have said that the time was not ripe, but would it not be possible to set up an Advisory Council consisting of representatives of the Government, of the Opposition and Labour on both sides with no legislative powers, good, bad or indifferent to meet alternately in Dublin and Belfast—probably not in public—and make recommendations to both Parliaments and both Governments, if it should agree. A meeting such as that would be of great benefit. At any rate, I do suggest that the policy with regard to Partition should be to recognise that we here cannot and will not coerce the Six Counties. Consequently, we cannot and will not try to get Great Britain to coerce them. Therefore, our policy is, so far as we can, to co-operate with them. We shall get rebuffs at first but, ultimately, I believe we shall succeed. That does not mean that we should proceed to do something stupid. I notice that the Northern Council for Unity, which is largely made up of the Nationalist minority, recently suggested that some special treatment should be given to Northern industries. That is an idea worth exploring—to see whether we could not buy things we cannot obtain at home from within the Six Counties. The Government might, in certain matters, definitely give a preference to these goods. That does not mean that we should do anything stupid. As soon as this suggestion came from the Northern Council for Unity, the Editor of theIrish Times, in the innocence of his heart, wrote a special leading article suggesting that linen from the Six Counties might come in free. He waxed quite eloquent about the glories of Ulster's linen manufacture. He appeared to forget—possibly, he did not know—that there are four linen factories in the Twenty-six Counties and that they are as old as most, if not all, of those in the Six Counties. Supposing this suggestion were to be adopted, either of two things would happen. By arrangement with Labour and with the Government, the four linen factories in the Twenty-six Counties would cut their costs and their prices and keep the trade. The result as a gesture would not be impressive. If the other thing happened and if the costs were higher, the four linen factories in the Twenty-six Counties would close down. The result would be that our friends in the Six Counties would form the opinion that the Irish Government were quite prepared to sacrifice their industries for political exigencies. If I understand them aright, that would be the last thing to impress the people in the Six Counties, which is the most industrial portion of the country. I give that as the kind of rather foolish suggestion that might be made though, speaking from the point of view of the linen trade, I think that if we could, to adopt the words of the Agreement, secure “reasonable competition” on the same terms inside Great Britain, we should not worry too much about the particular tariff. I have possibly taken up too much of the time of the House. I can only apologise and say that, so far as the Agreement as a whole is concerned, I believe it is good. So far as its effect on manufactures is concerned, I believe that it need not unduly injure them but that the position will have to be carefully watched.